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Beth Sorensen
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Reed College associate professor of biology David Dalton has been awarded a Research in Undergraduate Institutions grant for $70,000 from the National Science Foundation to fund his research on endophytic nitrogen fixation by European beach grass. Michael Kahn, chair of the microbiology department at Washington State University, is a collaborator and co-author on the project.

European beach grass (Ammophila arenaria) is an extremely abundant species on coastal dunes in the Pacific Northwest. Dalton and his students have shown that part of the prolific success of this grass on bare sand may be explained by its ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. This ability, says Dalton, enables them to "literally make protein from thin air." This is accomplished through symbiosis with bacteria living within the stems and roots of the plant. This type of nitrogen-fixing symbiosis is novel for temperate grasses and might have substantial implications for agricultural grasses, such as cereal crops. The project also has implications for conservation biology because European beachgrass is now considered a serious pest that displaces native plant communities.

The initial observations were made in 1997 by Reed thesis student Suzanne Fusaro. Three current thesis students--Sasha Kramer, Forest Kaser, and Nico Azios--have contributed to the project this year and will continue to do so with extensive field work this summer.

Details on this work and other thesis projects can be found at academic/departments/biology/professors/ddalton/thesis98.html.

David Dalton received his B.S. from Duke University and his M.S. and Ph.D. from Oregon State University. He joined Reed's faculty in 1987. Since 1989 he has had continuous NSF support, totaling more than $786,000, for his research. His previous work focused primarily on the biochemistry and molecular biology of antioxidants in legume root nodules. In 1990 Dalton received a Junior Vollum award, granted to Reed faculty members who wish to pursue a particular program of professional development. In 1997 Dalton was awarded funding from the Wind River Canopy Crane Research Facility and Forest Service Experiment Station for a research project on antioxidant defenses in Pacific Northwest conifers.

Through the Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) program, the National Science Foundation (NSF) provides support for research and research instrumentation for investigators in non-doctoral departments in predominantly undergraduate institutions. The RUI program is part of NSF's effort to help ensure a broad base for science and engineering research, and thereby enhance the scientific and technical training of students in undergraduate institutions. The specific objectives of the RUI program are to support high quality research by faculty with active involvement of undergraduate students, to strengthen the research environment in academic departments that are oriented primarily toward undergraduate students, and to promote the integration of research and education at predominantly undergraduate institutions.