The ORNL ‘Vision’ Video

ORNL released a pretty cool P.R. video the other day. While it sometimes feels like you are given little attention if you are not doing research on Neutrons, Computing, or ‘Alt Energy’ at ORNL, this video gives a shout out to many areas including environmental and climate research in a few places at least. All in all, makes for a nice video to point to, when friends, family, or other non-scientists ask that famous holiday dinner question… “What is it you folks do out there at ‘The Lab'”?

Grad Student Position: Zanne Lab – PhD position in saprotrophic fungal community structure/function

We are looking for a graduate student to join our plant evolutionary ecology research group, beginning fall semester 2013. Support is available for a student to participate in an NSF-funded project, which examines the influences of plant traits on wood decay.

We are exploring how plant traits relate to community structure and function of decomposing fungi, and the consequences of these interactions for the forest carbon cycle in the Central and Eastern USA and Eastern Australia as climate changes. The research assistant would focus on wood decay and fungal culturing and identification, using both traditional techniques (field collection and culturing) and molecular methods (targeted sequencing and next-generation based metagenomics). The student would have opportunities to spend time in collaborating labs that specialize on fungal identification, enzyme analysis and genomics. Motivated students with interests or skills in mycology, molecular biology, and bioinformatics are especially encouraged to apply.

The student would join an interactive lab group that broadly focuses on plant structure and function (anatomy and physiological ecology), community ecology, and evolutionary ecology, both in the temperate and tropical areas. The graduate work will be completed at George Washington University. Washington, DC is a dynamic city with a wealth of ecologists and evolutionary biologists. We have strong links to area institutions, including the Smithsonian. George Washington University is located in the heart of DC, with easy access to numerous science, conservation, and policy based institutions.

If you are interested in working with us on the NSF project (or on other projects broadly related to the lab interests), please send an email to me (Amy Zanne: with brief details about your GPA, GRE, research interests, experience, and why you want to go to graduate school. For information about applying to the program, go to the George Washington University, Department of Biological Sciences website. The application deadline is 2 January 2013. I am also happy to answer any further questions you might have.

USDA-DOE Funding Opportunity in Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy

Woohoo!!! Beneficial Plant Microbe interactions are specifically called out as eligible this year!

Excerpted RFP text below:
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), hereby announce their interest in receiving applications for genomics based research that will lead to the improved use of biomass and plant feedstocks for the production of fuels such as ethanol or renewable chemical feedstocks. Specifically, applications are sought for fundamental research on plants that will improve biomass characteristics, biomass yield, or sustainability. Systems biology approaches to identify genetic indicators enabling plants to be efficiently bred or manipulated, or research to predict phenotype from underlying genotype that could lead to improved feedstock characterization and sustainability are also encouraged.

Link to full announcement in PDF format

How do you survive bad times? Easy, steal the genes you need from other organisms.

This is a link to a recent post of my new postdoc Mike Robeson and his first entry into the wordpress blog world…

How do you survive bad times? Easy, steal the genes you need from other organisms..

AEM Cover link and article

There it is! Great Job Tarah!  Here is the link to the cover, the AEM article website and the PDF full article on our isolate fungal-Pb interaction studies and communities.

Also another article in this issue from Melissa Cregger (recent student in the Classen Lab at UTK) on Pinon-Juniper microbial community responses to precipitation change.

Scary graph of the day… Potential science funding cuts…

Scary graph of the day... Potential science funding cuts...

Here is the scary graph of the day for those of us generally interested in scientific progress, and more specifically for those of us that do fundamental research for a living. Almost as sad, is that most of the ‘Stimulus’ blip on the basic research side went to new state of the art facilities and equipment, that if these cuts take place, may become vacant and unused. Very sad indeed.

NIMBioS Graduate Summer Workshop

The 2013 Summer Graduate Workshop on Connecting Biological Data with Mathematical Models will be held June 17-28, 2013, at NIMBioS on the campus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The workshop is co-sponsored by NIMBioS, MBI and the Centre for Applied Mathematics in Bioscience and Medicine (CAMBAM). The workshop features instructors from across North America whose research expertise is mathematical modeling in biological systems using real data. Some of the techniques to be covered include Maximum likelihood and Bayesian approaches to inference, parameter estimation, model identifiability, uncertainty and sensitivity analysis, and data assimilation. Applications of connecting data to models will come from epidemiology, ecology (including global change biology), evolution, microbiology, physiology, pharmacokinetics, and systems biology.

Graduate students from the mathematical, physical and life sciences are encouraged to apply. There are no fees associated with this workshop and most meals are included. If needed, the math institutes can provide some support (transportation, lodging) for Workshop attendees.

Dates: June 17-28, 2013
Location: NIMBioS at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Co-sponsors: NIMBioS, MBI, and Centre for Applied Mathematics in Bioscience and Medicine (CAMBAM).
Application Deadline: January 15, 2013

For more information about the workshop and a link to the online application, go to

Summer Undergraduate and Educator Internship Programs

Applications are now being accepted for the Summer 2013 DOE laboratory internship programs (SULI, CCI and VF). These are great opportunities for undergraduates and educators to get hands on science experience, and we usually have a few working with us at ORNL. Most students come in the summer, but opportunities exist year around.

Program Summary is excerpted below:
The DOE Office of Science’s Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS) leverages the expertise of its six research program offices and the unique capabilities at DOE’s laboratories to sponsor workforce training programs designed to motivate students and educators to pursue careers that will contribute to the Office of Science’s mission in discovery science and science for the national need. WDTS also partners and coordinates with other DOE program offices and other federal agencies in its workforce and STEM education efforts.

CERCLA, HAZWOPER and the ‘Valley of the Drums’

Valley of the Drums, KY

I took my annual refresher training for HAZWOPER site work today. For those of you lucky enough to NOT know what the heck im talking about, HAZWOPER stands for HAZardous Waste OPerations and Emergency Response. This is the worker training law that was put into place after the creation of the Superfund Act (CERCLA) in the early 1980s. It mandates the standards to protect workers during cleanup operations at some of the most polluted and toxic sites in the country. Protections for these workers is one the things our government does right, they deserve it, and I’m glad that it was made a priority and a law.

Because some of my scientific work deals with and requires access to these types of sites to understand how microorganisms might contribute to their cleanup, I have to sit though a full day of refresher training each year to continue the work. While this can be kind of dry, I usually learn something new each year.

Not least of all, I as a scientist get to sit in a room with folks that are the real ‘boots on the ground’ in these cleanup situations. I take this training at the local union hall in Oak Ridge of the Atomic Trades and Labor Council. I hear their stories of what the bad old days were like, what happened to them and their loved ones who were exposed to this nastiness, and what is and is not working in terms of cleaning up these messes. I have tremendous respect for what these folks do and what it has meant to our generation to get these messes dealt with once and for all, and am thankful that we have regulations in place that this kind of stuff should not (and better not) happen again.

Some of you may know of Love Canal up in the NY area and how it contributed to the new environmental regulations that eventually led to CERCLA and HAZWOPER. This year in my class I learned a little about the ‘Valley of the Drums’ near Louisville, KY, and came home and did a little more reading about it. Unlike Love Canal where the source of the toxins was pretty much invisible and buried underground (so much so that houses were built right up to it without the developers, owners or families living there knowing), in Bullitt County this was right out in the open, in all its ugliness, for anyone to see. When it caught fire, it not only brought it to the full and immediate attention of the sites many neighbors, but it also became a powerful visual image nationwide that helped push through the cleanup laws and safety regulations that we are now lucky to have.

This link and the video linked below is from the Courier Journal in Louisville, KY and is about the site history and ongoing issues.
Valley of the Drums Video