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Tayler Chicoine Wins Grant to Support Her Sustainable Agriculture Research

Tayler Chicoine, an Iowa native, has always been passionate about improving the state of our agricultural system. After earning her B.A. in Biology at Grinnell College, Tayler decided she wanted to get hands-on experience working the land before beginning a graduate program. Consequently, Tayler worked for a year as both a research technician and volunteer coordinator at the Gobabeb Research and Training Center in Namibia. Tayler pointed out, "This experience emphasized the importance of scientific-public engagement, as I helped articulate scientific research to tourists and students." Following Namibia, she worked for six months at a permaculture farm in Costa Rica. This fall [2016] Tayler began her graduate research in the lab of Dr. Sarah Evans at MSU's W.K. Kellogg Biological Station.

Tayler commented, "As an Integrative Biology doctoral student, I am exploring plant-microbial interactions and hoping to better understand how, through selecting for beneficial plant-microbial systems, we can naturally improve agricultural systems. Plant-associated microbial communities have been shown to improve plants’ nutrient uptake, drought tolerance, and even pathogen resistance. I am interested in what plant characteristics support these beneficial microbes and, further, how differences within the same species influences plant-microbial interactions. Specifically, I am using switchgrass as a model system to investigate how differences in root morphologies influence their associated microbial communities. This is interesting because, if we can better understand what plant traits influence beneficial microbial communities, then plant breeders can use this to inform their breeding techniques. The project takes place at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center at the Kellogg Biological Station, utilizing a switchgrass variety experiment that was established in 2009."

To support her research interests, Tayler Chicoine has been awarded the C.S. Mott Predoctoral Fellowship in Sustainable Agriculture. It is a three-year fellowship ($11,500 each year, with a total value of $35,000) that will be renewed each year based on Tayler's satisfactory progress towards her doctorate degree. As a requirement for the fellowship, Tayler is expected to participate in the Ecological Food and Farming Systems Specialization and have one social-science chapter in her dissertation. Tayler said, "I’m very thankful for this fellowship, and I am looking forward to exploring the doors that it will help me open! I am excited to take the Ecological Food and Farming Systems (EFFS) classes and expand my research into the social-sector - something that I think needs to be incorporated into more biological research."

This grant will financially support Tayler's conference expenses and provide supplementary income for any unexpected research costs. In November, she will attend the Keystone Symposia in Cellular Biology on Phytobiomes: From Microbes to Plant Ecosystems. The conference will focus on plant microbiomes. While at the conference, Tayler hopes to network with other scientists about methods and ideas to further her research questions and her future career.

Tayler confirmed, "Following graduation, I plan to pursue a career that allows me to help bridge the gap between scientific and public knowledge. In particular, I would like to help inform policies about ways that we can try and mitigate the potentially devastating effects of climate change on our agricultural systems and global food security."