A USDA scientist with the Agricultural Research Service’s Mandan, North Dakota, lab is studying new ways to harness plant chemicals to improve crop nutrition, soil nutrient cycling, and more. Dr. Andrea Clemensen will be sharing what she’s learned to date as the first speaker in the USDA-ARS Northern Plains Agricultural Research Lab’s winter BrownBagger Speaker Series in Sidney.

The 2020 series kicks off this coming Friday from 12 - 1 p.m. with Dr. Clemensen’s presentation entitled, “Phytochemical links between healthy soil, plants, animals, and humans.”

Clemensen said she will be presenting research involving plant secondary metabolites and the benefits they offer for plants, foraging animals, and humans, as well as highlighting how these metabolites influence the soil, and subsequent land management implications.

“My big picture research objectives are linking the health of soil to the health of humans through plant biochemical diversity (the implementation of plant secondary metabolites),” Clemensen said. “Specifically, I’m looking at saponins (triterpenes) in alfalfa and how these metabolites might influence the soil microbiome, and subsequent crop (if alfalfa is used as a cover crop). I’m also looking at how different land management strategies might influence mineral and protein in wheat.”

Secondary metabolites are chemicals produced by plants for which no role has yet been found in growth, photosynthesis, reproduction, or other “primary” plant functions. These chemicals are extremely diverse; many thousands have been identified in several major classes. In some instances the chemicals appear to play a protective role for the plant in its environment since many have negative impacts on other organisms such as herbivores and pathogens that might otherwise attack the plant. However, plant secondary metabolites can also extend protections beyond the plant world, playing an important role in alleviating human ailments in traditional and folk medicines of the past as well as providing lead compounds for some modern medicines today.

Clemensen is a Postdoctoral Research Biologist at the Northern Great Plains Research Lab (NGPRL) in Mandan and is particularly interested in plant secondary metabolites (PSMs) and their relevance in agroecosystems at the soil-plant interface. She received her Ph.D. in Ecology from Utah State University in 2018 evaluating how different management strategies influence concentrations of PSMs, and how these metabolites influence soil nutrient cycling.

Clemensen’s research is part of the Sustainable Agricultural Systems for the Northern Great Plains Research Project. This project builds on continued research at the Mandan lab assessing how management impacts ecosystem services in ever-changing environments. The project works in collaboration with other ARS locations, and also includes the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and the Long Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) network, with overlying objectives to improve agricultural ecosystems while enriching crop nutrition.

NPARL invites all interested persons for this very interesting presentation beginning at noon Friday, Jan. 24. Bring a lunch, dessert is provided.

For questions or more information, contact Beth Redlin at 406-433-9427 or beth.redlin@usda.gov.

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