Summer 2022


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A Molecular Understanding of Antibiotics

Antibiotics are good at killing pathogens, but they also eliminate beneficial gut bacteria. This makes patients more prone to reinfection and sets the stage for drug-resistant strains to emerge. With this problem in mind, a group of researchers from the CALS biochemistry department took a close look at an antibiotic that kills only one or a few species of bacteria. Called fidaxomicin, it’s used to treat the common healthcare-associated infections caused by Clostridium difficile. The researchers demonstrated at a molecular level how fidaxomicin selectively targets C. diff while sparing innocent bacterial bystanders. The findings, detailed in Nature, might help scientists develop new narrow-spectrum antibiotics against other pathogens.

Carbon-Capturing Livestock

A team of scientists, including researchers from the soil science and agronomy departments, recently studied the carbon storage effects of multiple soil health practices. They found that, compared to a conventional corn field with annual tillage, 18–29% more organic carbon and matter accumulated in perennial pastures that were managed with rotational livestock grazing, highlighting this method’s potential role in climate-smart agriculture. The researchers used data from the 29-year-old Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial and published results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To Graze or Not To Graze?

One way dairy operations can reduce costs is by raising heifers via managed grazing on pastureland rather than in confinement. But the transition to this system can be fraught with unknowns. Thankfully, the Heifer Grazing Compass is helping dairy farmers predict and understand the cash flow and long-term financial outcomes of making the switch. The new tool, developed by the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems and Grassland 2.0, demonstrates that raising heifers using managed grazing results in savings of 25–50% per head per day and labor savings of 50–75%.

Less Water, Same Yield

A recent study by assistant professor Yi Wang and Ph.D. student Trevor Crosby of the horticulture department challenges the traditional practice of over-irrigating potato plants as an insurance policy for a marketable crop. The study, published in the journal Sustainability, was conducted over two years in the Upper Midwest. It found that deficit irrigation (as low as 75% of the estimated amount of water the plants would consume each day) during the late growing season did not lead to any significant differences in potato yield and quality as compared to overwatering by 125%.

This article was posted in Basic Science, Changing Climate, Economic and Community Development, Findings, Food Systems, Healthy Ecosystems, Summer 2022 and tagged , , , , , , , , .