NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Globally Puerto Rico is a strategic hub for the US to do research on tropical and subtropical agriculture. Many important crops are grown here that are also grown in the humid regions of the southern US and tropical regions around the world. To capitalize on this economically important region proposed work plans to help develop a highly trained agricultural workforce that is capable of leading the development of genomic based solutions to pest control on tropical crops. To have a highly competitive homegrown workforce in agriculture related genomics, hands on courses with direct real world applications need to be developed. Far too few students don’t get these research based educational opportunities, especially in Puerto Rico.To remedy this lack of practical genomics education applied to agriculture Dr. Van Dam has developed several courses to train students in assembly of genomes and to identify candidate genes that can be used in pest control via new CRISPR/RNAi control methods. By collaborating with USDA-ARS Subtropical Research Laboratory and USDA-ARS Invasive Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory where this type of pest control research is taking place, students can learn how what they are doing in the class room has a direct, concrete, real world application.

OBJECTIVES: Objectives. Proposed research directly aligns with NIFA HSI Educational Grant Program goal area 1. “Attract and support undergraduate and graduate students from underrepresented groups in order to prepare them for careers related to the food, agriculture, natural resources and human (FANH) sciences in the United States;”. Via providing educational agriculture based research opportunities in Entomology and Genomics for Hispanic students at UPRM, PI Dr. Van Dam will be preparing them to take on leadership roles in agriculture relevant sciences. Some of the students may apply for agriculture related jobs within the USDA by providing them with cooperative linkages with the USDA ARS Horticulture Laboratory, while others may go on to pursue advanced degrees in agriculture in mainland institutions by providing them the education and cooperative links with mainland research intensive institutions. Thus, PI will be providing new skills to prepare Hispanic students for FANH related careers which fully aligns with NIFA HSI primary objective 1.Specific Educational Objectives students should reach through proposed activities: (Approximatley 50 undergraduate students and 6 graduate students per year): Hard Skills sets:Competency in insect identification at the family level and be able to proficiently work through keys to identify insects to the genus level.Master statistical analyses of morphometric data related to insect taxonomy and be able to analyze physical museum data sets as well as massive BIG DATA online data sets eg. iDigBio, and how to add data to iDigBio. Be able to carry out a taxonomic description and build a scientific key to species.Complete fluency in analyzing next generation sequencing data eg. BIG DATA related genome sequencing and related databases. Complete understanding of phylogenetic trees and utility of met-barcoding via ONT. Illumina and Hi-C data collection in genome assembly. Equally if not more important Soft Skills set students should develop through proposed educational activities:Highly developed critical thinking skills, trouble shooting ability, and solve problems independently. Develop an appreciation for and how their existing knowledge can be applied to solve agriculture related problems. Develop collaboration and learn how to tackle large complex problems efficiently as a team. Develop excellent communication and leadership skills to give students the confidence needed to continue their education and/or participate in agriculture based research endeavors. Specific Research Objectives:Provide the Agriculture Research Community with four chromosome level Weevil genomes that are serious pests locally in Puerto Rico and globally in agriculture.Provide gene expression evidence for mechanisms of host plant specificity in weevils.Develop a pathway to train highly competent Insect Systematists using the most cutting edge a cutting edge integrative research based approach.Evaluate the effectiveness of educational strategies in engaging students in research that have a high success rate at delivering them into FANH careers.


See the Research Blog for current research highlights related to this USDA HSI Grant and related research.


Upgraded Molecular Lab:

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Upgraded Microscopes for Teaching Morphology: