I arrived at KBS during the heat of finals season on my campus. I had just taken my in-class exams and moved my belongings out of my dorm before arriving at KBS. I was looking forward to a summer of new experiences and that is exactly what I found.
This summer I studied the impacts of intraspecific trait diversity on a common agricultural pest, trichoplusia ni. Surprisingly little work has been done on this, even though meta-analysis studies indicate that 30-50% of total plant trait variance is intraspecific.
We hypothesized that exposing larvae to a diet with intraspecific plant diversity would decrease insect growth and survival. We used bioassays to assess the preference of the larvae.
We found that across the board they do best when they are able to choose between lines because they use their behavior to maximize their growth. When they are forced to switch to lines with different traits this work suggests they will have a hard time. This treatment mimics larvae moving in a field with intra-crop diversity.
When insects are forced to move from plant to plant this will reduce their performance and will enhance pest control. The trait diversity we are dealing with could be breed into crops and put out into the field. This will give farmers the genetic resilience that comes with diversity without having multiple crop species.
At KBS I learned the importance of preliminary studies and the power of bioassays. A year ago, I took a plant physiology course. I remember talking to the professor during lab about bioassays. He explained that bioassays are not as common as they used to be, and that they tend to be cheap and quick. This is usually done before scientists decide to invest a lot of time and energy into an experiment. Unfortunately, he failed to mention how important they are!
It was such a great experience for me to be a part of a more newly established lab. At times, it was difficult to work through the growing pains, but it felt good to know that the protocol I established would make it easier for someone else down the line. Once I knew what I was doing and where I was going it made it easier for me to invest my weekends and evenings.
There was also plenty of time for fun at KBS! I saw some of my favorite artists live at MO POP music festival. I had such a great time that I lost my voice.
While at KBS I had the opportunity to attend BOTANY 2017. I had won an NSF travel grant for the conference and luckily my lab team was kind enough to allow me to miss a week of work. When I came back from the conference I had a new-found sense of clarity. I had a game plan and direction for the rest of my experience at KBS. I was fully committed to my project.
No one told me that I had to come in after dinner or spend weekends working on the project. The manager of the lab site would ask me if I went home or if I slept in the lab. All in all I am proud of the work I did and look forward to seeing what my lab will do with this newfound knowledge.
My individual project was relatively straightforward, and at first, I thought this would limit my experience, but then I realized the power behind that. I realized that when science is lucid it reaches so many more people.
Nana Britwum was a student in the REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program at KBS in the summer of 2017 in the Wetzel lab. She is currently a senior at Cornell University studying Plant Science and Agricultural Science.