College of ACES
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NRES Graduate Student Swenson Helps Fellow Veterans

Published October 24, 2014
L-R: Krista Kimme - Associate Director of Advancement, College of Applied Health Sciences; Linda Tarrson - Cofounder of CreatiVets, Chicago, IL; Eric Swenson - Graduate Student and US Army Veteran, College of ACES
L-R: Krista Kimme, Associate Director of Advancement, College of Applied Health Sciences; Linda Tarrson, Cofounder of CreatiVets, Chicago, IL; Eric Swenson, Graduate Student and US Army Veteran, College of ACES


On October 8th, Eric Swenson, a US Army veteran and current NRES graduate student, traveled to San Francisco, CA, to serve as the keynote speaker at an Alumni fundraising dinner which took place at the St. Francis Yacht Club to benefit the Chez Family Foundation Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education.  The Center, which is slated to open in the fall of 2015, will provide live-in accommodations for 14 disabled University of Illinois student veterans and will extend additional services to hundreds more.  Initial funding for the Center came from a lead gift of $6 million from the Chez Family Foundation.  Illinois Governor, Pat Quinn, also dedicated a $4 million grant from the Illinois Jobs Now! capital construction and economic recovery plan to support this initiative. This center builds on the University of Illinois’ unique experience in serving persons with disabilities since 1948, when veterans of WWII entered higher education using the GI Bill, and today will focus on helping wounded and injured veterans and their families successfully navigate the higher education landscape.

Through his presentation and by engaging attendees before and after the program, Eric shared his view of the Center while providing a firsthand perspective of life as a student veteran.  This included the culture shock of transitioning to campus life, as well as the challenges of returning to the classroom and of finding meaning in a new mission outside the military.  Eric also talked about the value veterans bring with them – their selflessness, dedication to duty, and toughness – that can make them leaders on campus and beyond.  Although it will take time to build authentic relationships with donors, Eric facilitated a dialogue with a largely civilian audience to communicate how their investment in student veterans will reap larger social dividends.  Also speaking at the Gala were Dean Tanya M. Gallagher – College of Applied Health Sciences, Kyle L. Kostelecky – Director of the Center for Wounded Veterans, and Lieutenant Colonel Matthew C. Shortal – Former Blue Angels Pilot and Graduate of TOPGUN.

News Source:

Eric Swenson

Farm Bill web-based tools workshop Nov. 17

Published October 23, 2014

URBANA, Ill.  – A one-day workshop that will include demonstrations and training on web-based decision tools with presentations on the 2014 Farm Bill farm programs, will be held Nov. 17 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Airport hotel located at 2501 South High School Road in Indianapolis.

There is no cost to attend the workshop, but online registration is required. The training is primarily designed for farmers, landowners, Extension educators, U.S. Department of Agriculture - Farm Service Agency staff, crop insurance agents, consultants, and credit institutions.

The 2014 Farm Bill provides producers with a choice among two versions of a revenue-based assistance program (Agriculture Risk Coverage) and a fixed-price program (Price Loss Coverage).

“This training will provide information about the farm programs and the web-based tools developed to help producers make the program decisions for their operations,” said University of Illinois’ Jonathan Coppess. “The tools will also assist landowners with decisions for updating payment yields and reallocating base acres.” 

The University of Illinois-led coalition’s web-based decision tool (the Agriculture Policy Analysis System) can be found at

The training is hosted by the National Coalition for Production Education, which is led by the University of Illinois and includes the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics at the Ohio State University.  It is co-sponsored with the USDA-Farm Service Agency and will include the National Association for Agriculture and Food Policy (a coalition co-led by the Agricultural and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M University and the Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri-Columbia). It is available at

For more information on the 2014 Farm Bill programs, decisions and web-based tools, visit the Farm Bill Toolbox at


Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory will be unique facility on UI campus

Published October 23, 2014
IBRL ceremony
Front row: Jim Underwood, Executive Director Capital Development Board, iBIO President David Miller, Chancellor Phyllis Wise and Illinois Agriculture Director Bob Flider Back row: Dr. Hans Blaschek, Dean Bob Hauser, President Bob Easter

Urbana, Ill. - University, state, and industry officials came together on Oct. 22 to celebrate the announcement of a unique facility coming to the University of Illinois campus. The Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory, or IBRL, will be a flexible, plug-and-play, pilot scale facility and analytical laboratory that will bring faculty, students, and industry together to develop efficient and economical strategies for the production of renewable bio-based products. The facility will be housed on the campus of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES).

U of I President Robert Easter gave a brief history of the project’s evolution, which began in 1998. After initial approval of $20 million in finance construction by the General Assembly, and support from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), an economic downturn put the project on hold. Easter acknowledged the many people who kept a vision for the facility, including Governor Pat Quinn.

“The governor has been a staunch supporter of this project for a long time,”” said Easter. “Our deep appreciation goes to Governor Quinn, the General Assembly, and the DCEO for their confidence in the ability of the university to contribute significantly through the work that will go on at this facility.”

Easter said it is critical for the university to take the long view in bioprocessing research. “Fossil fuel supplies are geologically limited,” said Easter, “and it won’t be that far in the future when that supply will be reduced and constrained. Inevitably, the discussion will return again to plant-based materials as a source of fuel, and also as a source of bio-based products. It’s critical that the university continue to do the work that will be the basis for that new economy.”

Hans-Peter Blaschek, director of the IBRL and professor emeritus in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, said, “The time it took to get the IBRL under way allowed us to design a facility that will be both relevant and useful to faculty, students, and industry partners for years to come. The facility was designed to advance research and education focused on renewable fuels, food co-products, and fiber-based processing platforms.”

Blaschek gave examples of current work that demonstrate the need for such a facility. 

“This morning we had presentations from faculty teams describing recent projects at the intersection of plant and microbial genetics and bioprocessing. These projects brought together faculty expertise not normally found working together. Another example is a project we currently have with the Illinois Department of Transportation, specifically looking at the feasibility of incorporating energy crops along Illinois highway right-of-ways,” Blaschek said. “The IBRL will provide the infrastructure to support this type of team-based research and builds off the existing programs and faculty expertise that we already have.

“There is no question that Illinois has a long history of being good at fundamental and basic research,” Blaschek continued. “Moving from basic research discoveries in bioprocessing to commercial products requires a unique facility where various materials, including plant and plant co-products, can be tested for their suitability for bioprocessing to value-added products. The IBRL fills this gap in the channel from innovative research to market application and commercial products.”

Jim Underwood, executive director of the state of Illinois’s Capital Development Board (CDB), also participated in the ceremony. The CDB is the construction arm of the Illinois state government and the organization that will oversee the project. Underwood said, “The state funding for the $24 million project would not have been available without the passage of the governor’s Illinois Jobs Now! state capital bill in 2009.” Underwood also noted that the project will be designed and constructed to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council in terms of sustainability and energy efficiency, saving energy costs for many years to come.

Chancellor Phyllis Wise spoke to the many opportunities the IBRL will provide the state and the university. “Through the IBRL, we will be able to translate fundamental research into work that will help ensure the economic prosperity of the state,” said Wise. “And while we’re helping the state push agriculture industry forward, IBRL will provide a great new education opportunity for our students to experience research from its inception to its application.”

Robert Hauser, dean of the College of ACES, asked for comments from representatives in industry to close the ceremony, saying successful partnerships between the university and industry would be key to the success of the new facility. 

Chris Olsen, vice president of community and government affairs with Tate & Lyle, said, “We’re tremendously excited about this opportunity on campus. We believe it’s something that will lead to technology transfer back into Illinois. We work on a regular basis with companies developing bioproducts, and we believe that the facility we’re celebrating here today is completing a package that will make Illinois a leader in the sustainable bio-based economy.”

Construction of the IBRL is expected to begin next month and should be completed in 2016.

Following the ceremony, the John W. Maitland Biotechnology Leadership Award was presented to Robert Flider, director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The award is given by the Illinois Biotechnology Industry Organization (iBIO) and goes to a government official who has provided outstanding support to the Illinois biotechnology community. The award was presented by David Miller, president and chief executive officer of iBIO.


Fall-applied herbicides: Which weed species should be the target?

Published October 23, 2014

URBANA, Ill. - Herbicides applied in the fall often can provide improved control of many winter annual weed species compared with similar applications made in the spring, according to a University of Illinois weed scientist.

Aaron Hager explained that marestail is one example of a weed species that is often better controlled with herbicides applied in the fall compared with the spring.  “An increasing frequency of marestail populations in Illinois are resistant to glyphosate, and within the past year we have confirmed that resistance to ALS-inhibiting herbicides also is present in Illinois populations,” Hager said. “Targeting emerged marestail with higher application rates of products such as 2,4-D in the fall almost always results in better control at planting compared with targeting overwintered and often larger plants with lower rates of 2,4-D in the spring.”

One question typically posed is whether or not a fall application needs to include one or more herbicides that provide residual control of winter annual weed species. Hager said that typically the earlier the fall application is made (early October), the more benefit a soil-residual herbicide can provide since emergence of winter annual weeds is often not complete. 

“However, delaying the herbicide application until later in the fall (mid-November) often diminishes the necessity of a soil-residual herbicide since most of the winter annual weeds have emerged and can be controlled with non-residual herbicides,” he said. “Applying a soil-residual herbicide late in the fall in hopes of having a clean field prior to planting is akin to gambling on the weather. Cold winter conditions (similar to last winter) can reduce herbicide degradation in the soil and increase herbicide persistence. 

“This might not always be favorable since, depending on the residual herbicide, increased persistence also can cause injury to the following crop.  A more moderate winter and early spring warming will increase herbicide degradation, which could result in the need for a burndown herbicide to control existing vegetation before planting,” he said.

Hager added that fall-applied herbicides that target fall-emerging winter annual species, biennials, and perennials are recommended.  “We do not recommend fall application of residual herbicides for control of any spring-emerging annual weed species. We are aware that some labels suggest the product will control certain summer annual weed species, including pigweed (Amaranthus) species, following application in the fall,” he said.

According to Hager, the Extension weed science program at the U of I does not recommend fall application of residual herbicides to control Amaranthus species the next spring for the following reasons:

  • Inconsistent performance. Performance consistency of soil-residual herbicides applied in the fall is greatly dependent on weather and soil conditions after application, U of I data suggest the greatest and most consistent control of Amaranthus species either at planting or several weeks after planting was achieved when residual herbicides were applied in the spring, not in the fall.
  • Increased selection for herbicide-resistant biotypes. Soil-applied herbicides are not immune from selection for herbicide-resistant biotypes (see previous article.)  Following a fall application, the concentration of herbicide remaining in the spring when Amaranthus species begin to germinate will be much lower compared with the same product rate applied closer to planting.

Populations of several of the most challenging summer annual broadleaf weed species in Illinois demonstrate resistance to herbicides from more than one site-of-action herbicide class, Hager said. “Their effective management requires an integrated approach that often includes soil-residual herbicides. Applying these herbicides when they will be most effective against these challenging summer annual species is a critical component of an integrated management program,” he added.

Birds roosting in large groups less likely to contract West Nile virus

Published October 23, 2014
Bethany Krebs assembling cage
Bethany Krebs (on ladder) assembling one of the flight cages used to house a sentinel sparrow for University of Illinois research on the relationship between roosting and West Nile virus transmission.

URBANA, Ill. – Although it would seem logical that large numbers of roosting birds would attract more mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus and contract the disease when bitten,  recent research at the University of Illinois found the opposite to be true. That is, when large groups of birds roost together the chances that an individual bird will get bitten by mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus and subsequently contract the disease actually go down.

“Our study is the first field-based evidence to support what’s called the ‘encounter-dilution effect’ acting in a vector-borne disease system with an experiment,” said U of I researcher Bethany Krebs. “There have been other laboratory and modeling studies that suggest that mosquitoes feed less per individual in a group than they do on a solitary bird but it’s hard to get the information in natural settings.”

The experiment was conducted over a period of three years. “We trapped mosquitoes inside and outside of roosts from 2010 to 2012 to determine whether roosts attracted more mosquitoes than non-roost sites,” Krebs said. “Then we sent the mosquitoes to a lab in Texas that ran analyses on them to determine if they carried the virus. Uninfected house sparrows were used as sentinel birds to assess host risk of West Nile exposure in 2012—the timing coincided with the historical period of peak West Nile virus transmission in the Chicago study areas known to be ‘hot spots’ for the disease.”

The house sparrows were placed in flight cages—23 birds in cages near communal roosts and 25 in non-roost cages. Krebs explained that sentinel birds are used by public health departments as sort of a “canary-in-the-coal mine” early warning system to detect the presence of a vector-borne disease.

 “Only three sparrows near roosts contracted West Nile virus whereas 11 birds in non-roost cages were infected,” Krebs said. “So the risk of West Nile virus exposure for those sentinel birds caged within roosts was significantly lower than for birds caged in non-roost locations.”

Jeff Brawn, U of I ecologist and department head of the Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, described how this study sheds light on the spread of vector-borne diseases, such as West Nile virus, compared to those transmitted via direct contact. “If you’re in a group, the probability of infection goes way up with direct contact diseases such as colds and flu,” Brawn explained. “This study confirmed that the risk is spread out among the individuals in the herd; in the case of West Nile virus, which is a vector-borne disease, individual risk is minimized.”

Brawn said that they don’t understand why some birds roost and others of the same species do not. But this study shows that those who do choose to roost together benefit by the lower risk of exposure to West Nile virus infection.

The maintenance and transmission of West Nile virus goes something like this: The common mosquito Culex pipiens is the carrier (vector) of the disease. The mosquitoes bite birds, usually at night while they are roosting and infect them with the virus. Crows and jays typically die after they contract West Nile virus, but robins are called “super-amplifiers of the disease.” They are able to serve as hosts for the virus. Later, other mosquitoes bite the infected birds, get the virus, and transmit it to another host—which could be another bird or a human.

This brings to a close almost 10 years of research on West Nile virus in the Chicago area supported by funding from the National Science Foundation. “This was the last year that we were planning to do significant field work in that area of Chicago,” Krebs said.

Brawn said that a study like this that has many components also requires experts from many disciplines. “It can only happen when you have field biologists, mosquito specialists, disease experts, epidemiologists–that team of researchers that worked on this project is multi-faceted. That’s what it takes to do this kind of work. We collected blood samples from the birds and sent those to be analyzed. We sent the mosquitoes to someone else who knew how to do all of the genetic analysis. It’s a team working together.”

Brawn added that, although the study was on birds, it could provide an interesting implication with respect to human behavior and health risk. “If you are in the woods alone, you may have a greater probability of getting bitten than if you are in a large group of people,” he said.

“Host group formation decreases exposure to vector-borne disease: a field experiment in a ‘hotspot’ of West Nile virus transmission” was written by Bethany L. Krebs, Marilyn O. Ruiz, and Jeffrey D. Brawn from the University of Illinois; Tavis K. Anderson from Georgia Southern University; Tony L. Goldberg and Christina M. Newman from the University of Wisconsin; Gabriel L. Hamer from Texas A&M; Uriel D. Kitron from Emory University; and Edward D. Walker from Michigan State University. The research was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences and was supported by the National Science Foundation Ecology of Infectious Disease program.