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June 28, 2010

Biology conference introduces DWU professor, student to new ideas

MITCHELL — Not many associate “science teacher” with “security,” but there is one at Dakota Wesleyan University who finds biosecurity measures fascinating.

Dr. Anthony Cole, associate professor of biochemistry at DWU, and his summer fellowship student, Nicholas Wenande, attended the North Central Division of the American Phytopathological Society meeting in Rapid City earlier in June. The conference focused on various aspects of food biosafety, including biosecurity with professionals and graduate students.

Cole found Dr. Francisco Ochoa-Corona’s discussion on agricultural biosecurity to be the most interesting. “Did you know that there are no translations in Italian, French and Spanish for biosafety and biosecurity?” Cole asked. “He really got me thinking about global protection of our food supply. The word ‘biosecurity’ really includes food safety, plant health, animal health and human health.”

There were six presentations in all, ranging from agricultural biosecurity to food safety and security intervention systems and even pest management strategies. Participants could also take tours of the eastern Black Hills to study threats to forest systems; Hill City’s Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, home to “Stan,” the Tyrannosaurus rex; and also Prairie Berry Winery. Cole said that he sat in on every presentation, but didn’t go on the tours this year, though he did take his undergrad student for his first tour of the Badlands.

“It was an awesome experience,” said Wenande, a Mitchell native who is a junior biology-chemistry major and Spanish minor from Mount Marty College. “Despite touring the Rapid City area many times, this was my first time witnessing the Badlands.”

Wenande’s South Dakota Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (BRIN) fellowship brings him to DWU to work with Cole in the lab using an Agrobacterium expression system to investigate the development of local and systemic responses to Tobacco Mosaic Virus infection in Nicotiana gossei. They will also be looking for new viruses in wheat fields around the area.

They both agreed that Dr. Howard Schwartz’s talk, “Risk Management Systems in Agriculture,” spoke most directly to what they will be researching this summer, but unlike Cole, Wenande’s favorite seminar was “Food Safety and Security Intervention Systems,” with Dr. Brendan Niemira.

“I was unaware of the technology being utilized to supply consumers with fresh agricultural products which are free from harmful bacteria,” Wenande said.

There were more than 50 people registered for the conference with about 30 graduate students. Wenande was the only undergraduate in attendance.

Cole thought that, taking his summer intern to the conference would help expose him to new ideas and better explain the vastness of the field.

“I thought that while I could try to explain to Nick what impact my research has on agriculture and plant pathology, it might have a bigger impact if he could see how diverse the research is in plant pathology and how it can be tied directly into food safety,” he said.

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