Monday, July 19, 2010

Finnish Scientist Visits AU to Conduct Ecological Research

Dr. Jeff Weidenhamer is hosting a visiting scientist this summer from the University of Helsinki, Prof. Aki Sinkkonen. They are conducting collaborative experiments on how the growth responses of plants to environmental toxins are modified by plant density, as well as exploring new approaches to data analysis from plant growth experiments. During his Ph.D. research, Dr. Weidenhamer discovered that because plants compete for toxins the way they do for nutrients, plants growing at low densities suffer greater growth reductions because they receive a larger dose of the toxins. This phenomenon has relevance to studies of phytoremediation – the use of plants to detoxify soils contaminated with high concentrations of heavy metals such as lead or cadmium, or organic toxins such as creosote. Prof. Sinkkonen has extended this concept to develop mathematical models of plant growth in the presence of toxins, and has applied these models to the analysis of experimental data from plant growth studies. The results of the experiments that Prof. Sinkkonen is conducting with Dr. Weidenhamer may help in the development of bioassays to determine pollutant impacts.

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