I recently had the opportunity to intern in the UC Davis Plant Science department in Dr. Gail Taylor’s lab for three months over the summer.  As a Career Exploration Fellow with the AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems, I had a wonderful experience collaborating with students and researchers from undergraduate to Ph.D. levels.

I graduated high school in June of this year, with an interest in attending UC Davis and earning a degree in Plant Biology. This summer fellowship provided the opportunity to explore my interest in plant biology in preparation for my college studies. TaylorLab researches several aspects of sustainable agriculture. Researchers are currently experimenting with small-scale watercress vertical farming, in which watercress seedlings are cultivated in soil-stocked walls rather than in traditional horizontal plots. Several scientists are also studying the development of poplar trees as a wood biofuel that could one day substitute for coal and fossil fuels as a carbon-negative sustainable resource. Finally, graduate and postgraduate students are currently running experiments in DNA and RNA extraction from various soil and seed samples.

Group of students and lab equipment Students harvesting watercress from an indoor vertical growing structure

My experience at TaylorLab was a comprehensive and diverse introduction to the basic elements of lab research. Working under the supervision of graduate student Yufei Qian and assistant specialist Jack Bailey-Bale, I contributed to several experiments in the lab.

One of my favorite jobs was assisting Ms. Qian with an experiment in vertical farming of watercress. I was able to work with her throughout the experiment, from preparation to harvesting to sample processing. First, I prepared sample bags and logged the locations and genotypes of the samples that were to be collected. Then, I spent several days harvesting the plants with Ms. Qian and the other interns. Finally, everyone in the lab worked together to process the samples, which included weighing samples, recording reflectance, dissecting the plants, recording mainstem length and diameter, quantifying leaves, branches, and leaflets, and photographing the dissected samples. Later, oven-dried watercress samples also had to be weighed and logged. The process took place over several weeks. It was a privilege to be able to work on an experiment in several separate phases and see how work put in at the beginning of the process paid off in the end.

Watercress separated Microscopy Equipment

Another of my most enjoyable tasks was taking soil moisture measurements in the field with Mr. Jack Bailey-Bale. The overall goal of his research is to develop poplar trees into sustainable wood biofuel. High-density poplar wood chips could one day replace fossil fuels such as coal. Every two weeks, I was able to join him in an experimental poplar field and log measurements of soil moisture using a field laptop. I learned how to use several types of computer software and observed the data being taken in graph or spreadsheet form. I was fascinated to track the correlation between fluctuating soil moisture and the changes in graphs generated by the software.  This opportunity allowed me to learn about the importance of carbon negativity in fuel as well as to gain valuable experience working on-site in the field.

On days when there was less for me to do, I also had a set of routine, simple tasks that I could work on for hours on end. One of these was microscopy for Mr. Bailey-Bale, which involved taking pictures of stomata on the surface of lettuce leaves. Using microscope software, I could take clear, focused images of the stomata and pavement cells in the sample. This experience provided me with valuable microscopy skills. I also had a chance to work on watercress seed cleaning for Ms. Qian, a week-long process in which I used sieves to separate tiny watercress seeds from seed pods, petals, and debris that had been collected with them. I processed around four hundred of these samples while avoiding sample contamination, which helped me develop strong attention to detail. Finally, I worked on labeling for Mr. Bailey-Bale in preparation for a poplar sample harvest. While this wasn’t the most scientifically rigorous project, it did teach me that part of lab work consists of repetitive, non-technical tasks, which was important for me to learn as an aspiring lab researcher.

Seed Cleaning Equipment

All in all, my experience at TaylorLab has been a positive one. In the past three months, I’ve learned so much about lab work, research techniques, field research, and much more. I’m very grateful to everyone involved in helping me with this internship and hope to repeat the experience soon.

 

Thanks

I’d like to extend heartfelt thanks to everyone who has helped and guided me throughout this internship. Thank you very much to Gabe Youtsey, Hanna Bartram, and Aiwei Zhu, who worked to get me the position and set me up as an official AIFS fellow.

I’m also very grateful to Dr. Taylor, who was very kind and understanding despite my young age and lack of experience and was willing to give me a chance in her lab.

I truly appreciate all the assistance and teaching I received from Yufei Qian and Jack Bailey-Bale, who supervised me throughout the internship and always made an extra effort to make this internship meaningful and educational for me.

–Abigail Broderick

Learn about the first cohort of educators in the AIFS Teacher Fellowship Program. This Externship and Curriculum Writing Package will cover training and curriculum development activities for 10 high school teachers in California using drones in the classroom for agricultural applications.

Read more about the AIFS Teacher Fellowship Program

Inside Unmanned Systems published their February/March food issue: Autonomy from Field to Fork. Inside AI: Food Processing and Distribution in the Era of Artificial Intelligence. This article, written by AIFS Director Ilias Tagkopoulos and Co-PI and Lead of the Food Processing and Distribution Cluster Nitin Nitin, shared how a strategic initiative by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) led to the creation of the USDA/NSF AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems (AIFS) and where AI may lead us with improvements to the Food System.

The AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems announced Michael Bisch as the newest member of the Stakeholder Advisory Board. Michael Bisch is the executive director of the Yolo Food Bank. The Stakeholder Advisory Board serves AIFS to advise on public policy and strategic impact.

The AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems, or AIFS, aims to meet growing demands in our food supply by increasing efficiencies using AI and bioinformatics spanning the entire system — from growing crops through consumption.

Michael has a 20+ year history serving the communities in Yolo County and Davis, CA in a variety of roles. Most recently, Yolo Food Bank, AIFS, and IIFH hosted the inaugural Food for Fairness Summit in October 2021. It’s purpose was to address: Developing an equitable, sustainable local food system…globally. Information about the 2nd Annual Food for Fairness Summit in October 2022 will be forthcoming this summer.

“My professional endeavors are focused upon creating a food system to meet the needs of the most vulnerable members of our society. I’m honored to serve on the AIFS Stakeholder Advisory Board and look forward to working with all involved to drive transformational change in pursuit of food equity for people and the planet,” said Michael Bisch.

For more information about AIFS, visit aifs.ucdavis.edu or follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn

Michael-Bisch-photo

 

As an undergraduate studying biotechnology at UC Davis, I have had my eyes opened to a multitude of innovative technologies. Over the almost three years of my undergraduate journey, I have witnessed a genome-edited calf, learned about CRISPR, and most importantly, have been introduced to the world of crop and food production through this fellowship program. I never would have imagined that plant biotechnology and agriculture would ignite a passion to pursue a career within these disciplines.

Food insecurity and agricultural challenges are significant global issues and modern advancements in technology and biology can intersect to solve these. I am passionate about these concepts, and as an AIFS Career Exploration Fellow working with the Ronald Lab, I have been able to learn more about what exactly I am interested in and what I can do with my interests to create an impactful change.

The Ronald Laboratory studies genes that control resistance to disease and tolerance of environmental stress with the goal of improving food security. While aligning with my interests, this fellowship has mainly provided me with an inside look into what is driving the operation. I have been assisting with the KitaakeX mutant line project, which aims to catalog and research different mutants of Kitaake with different traits. KitaakeX is a mutant population that was fast-neutron induced. Currently, 3200 lines are sequences and 2871 lines are fully analyzed, which are viewable on the KitBase database. Not only have I been working with rice in its multiple growth stages, but I have also been able to explore the computational aspect of genomics, something I never expected to hold interest in. I have come to learn and appreciate the impact computational biology and bioinformatics possess in agriculture.

The opportunity to work with individuals who have dedicated their careers to this field is truly inspiring and has helped me narrow down and define my own career path. A typical day for me truly does not exist when I spend time at the Ronald Lab. For example, I have been privileged to handle the actual rice plants being studied and assist with crossing and transferring rice shoots. On other days, I have been learning introductory HTML and working on the Ronald Lab’s website. The ability for me to be able to take part in so many pieces of the puzzle have guided my journey. My mind has been opened to opportunities dealing specifically with crops that are significant in feeding the world. Though I started with just an interest in plant genetic engineering, I am now seeking a career specifically involving food security.

To me, one of the most startling takeaways I have gained from this fellowship is the potential of expanding my knowledge base and career through pursuing a graduate degree. For as long as I can remember, I have avoided entertaining the thought of graduate school, yet through this opportunity, I have discovered that graduate education is more than what I previously believed it to be. Through a presentation from a graduate student at the Ronald Lab, I was intrigued by the possibility of being able to pursue one’s own research ideas, all the while receiving guidance and advice from a tightly knit community of fellow scientists. Earning a PhD or master’s degree opens one up to a greater field of research and opportunities, which would benefit me in achieving my career aspirations.

Thanks to this fellowship, I have been privileged to follow the process of groundbreaking research and even participate. This has inspired me to continue with the major I have chosen and take it farther than I have anticipated.

Sudha Vasudevan, 21-22 Innagural Undergraduate Career Exploration Fellow

In partnership with Yolo Food Bank and the Innovation Institute for Food and Health, AIFS was excited to participate in the inaugural Food for Fairness Summit taking place October 19-21, 2021. AIFS presenters included Ilias Tagkopoulos, Aaron Smith, Mason Earles, Danielle Lemay, and Steve Brown.

Recap story from UC Davis News

The Artificial Intelligence Institute for Next Generation Food Systems (AIFS) is a collaborative model working closely with six partner institutions: UC Davis, UC Berkeley, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Cornell University and USDA-NIFA. Below is a sampling of events that our researchers participated in:
Cornell CIDA Symposium with Renata Ivanek, Martin Wiedmann and Qing Zhao on October 11, 2021
CITRIS Research Exchange with Stavros Vougioukas on Sept. 15, 2021
CVPR Agriculture Vision Workshop with Mason Earles, on June 19, 2021
CITRIS Research Exchange with Gabe Youtsey, on October 21, 2020