News release
Public Information Office  SLU 10880   Hammond, LA 70402   phone: 985-549-2341   fax: 985-549-2061 Spring 2004 news releases Public Information home News archive

Contact: Christina Chapple
Date: 5/19/04
      HAMMOND -- Southeastern Louisiana University will receive almost a half million dollars – $473,678 – in grants from the Louisiana Board of Regents for instructional equipment and scientific and industrial research.
      In the research and development/industrial ties category, the university had a higher percentage of their proposals funded than any other state institution, said Emily Bond, director of the Office of Sponsored Research and Grants.
      Bond said that only four institutions – Louisiana State University’s main campus, LSU’s agriculture center, the University of New Orleans and the University of Louisiana-Lafayette – received more BOR grant money than Southeastern.
      “However, looking at the numbers of grant proposals submitted and the numbers actually funded,” she said, “we find that Southeastern’s percentage – 38 percent – was higher than these four universities. Also, in the research category, both of our funded proposals were ranked number one. That was a job well done.”
      Bond said biology professors Kyle Piller and Volker Stiller received $133,692 and $112,978, respectively, while chemistry professor Randolph Belter’s award of $135,000 was the university’s first in the “Industrial Ties” category. A total of 52 of the 226 grant proposals were funded statewide.
      Belter will partner with the engineering firm Cox-Walker & Associates to develop a chemical process for manufacturing fluorochemicals from light petroleum products. The fluorochemicals are typically used as refrigerants, foam blowing agents and fire-supressants. 
       In the undergraduate enhancement category, visual arts professors Gary Keown and John Valentino were awarded $92,000 for equipment to expand the digital technology course offerings. Nursing professor Ann Carruth received $8,000 for a bone scanner that will allow the School of Nursing to add osteoporosis screening to its health van.
      Piller plans to examine the phenomenon of “adaptive radiation,” when multiple species evolve in a relatively “short” amount of time – tens of thousands of years as compared to hundreds of thousands or even millions of years evolution usually takes. To carry out his studies, he will travel to central Mexico to collect the 23 species of silverside fishes. 
      “From an economic viewpoint, this group of fishes is an important food source for the people of the region,” Piller said. He said the fishes are also interesting from the standpoint of ecology and evolution because they range from tiny plankton eaters to foot-long predators with as many as 12 different species sometimes inhabiting the same lake.
      In his Southeastern lab, Piller and his graduate assistant will sequence DNA from all of the specifies to examine their evolutionary relationships and to determine how such a variety of morphologically and tropically diverse species have developed in such a short amount of time.
      Stiller’s research proposal focuses on the development of strains of rice which can be highly productive in areas of the world subject to frequent drought. The biologist has discovered a new mechanism for refilling water in rice leaves, and has developed a technique to detect embolisms that can develop in a plant’s water conducting tissue – xylem – when water supply is restricted. Normally, he said, plants combat xylem embolism by using “nightly root-pressure” to compress and flush out air bubbles. At least one rice variety, however, reverses xylem embolism with the novel refilling mechanism.
      He will use several varieties of rice to examine this “novel refilling mechanism.” Researchers, he said, “have no idea how this refilling mechanism works. Right now we are just beginning to study in which plants it can occur.”
      Comparing several species of rice, Stiller will attempt to discover whether plants that lack the ability to generate sufficient root-pressure use the novel refiling mechanism to compensate. He will also eye the nature of the novel refiling method. 
      “If we can answer the basic questions and find the genetic basis for the novel refilling mechanism, it would have far-reaching implications for the field of plant water relations as a whole,” Stiller said. “It would also lead to a breakthrough in plant breeding with respect to plant growth and yield in arid environments and under restricted water supply.”