What’s in the soil, water and air around us can tell a story about the ecosystem we depend upon. Scientific research can help write those stories, but it can’t happen without a laboratory. And the more advanced the laboratory, the more insightful the research results will be.
The Boreal Ecosystem Research Initiative (BERI) was officially opened in March 2014. The 500-square-metre research facility supports forestry and agriculture research with a focus on the analysis of soils, plants, air and water. The $8.1-million facility includes four laboratory facilities.
In the pre-process laboratory, field samples are processed and measured to get them ready for extraction in the other labs.
In the extraction and standard chemical analyses laboratory, samples of things like soil, plants, food, and animal feed are processed to determine their nutrient composition and the presence of contaminants. These samples are also cultured to discover the effects of environmental conditions. For example, what are the effects of temperature stress in plant cells in terms of energy, development, photosynthesis, DNA expression and biosynthesis? How does temperature influence overall plant growth and crop yields?
The molecular biology laboratory can extract and characterize molecular compounds, DNA and RNA to allow genetic and metabolic analyses suitable for growing test microorganisms, plant and animal cells. These data help researchers gain insight into the role of plants and microbial communities for nutrient use efficiency, maintaining the health of farm animals, protecting the quality and the nutritional value of agriculture. It also helps them understand the role of agriculture and forestry practices in the maintenance or enhancement of environmental, community and ecosystem health and services.
The analytical facility houses the most sensitive instruments capable of analyzing any sample type (liquid, solid or gas) derived from plants, soil, water, animal feed and food samples. Instruments in this lab can quantify the amount of individual chemical components (e.g.. protein, fats, nutrients, contaminants) and provide a picture of the location of each compound in the sample.
The facility’s faculty members specialize in soil, water, herbaceous plant analysis, and hydrology and resource economics. Their expertise, combined with the analytical research laboratories, has boosted the teaching and research reputation of Grenfell Campus, which in turn helps attract new students who are looking for a more hands-on education.