A photo of student Jake Gioffre, senior in the department of plant and soil sciences, standing with soybean plants in the Fischer Greenhouse.
Jake Gioffre inoculates soybean plants in UD’s Fischer Greenhouse with a different strain of rhizobium.

Summer symbiosis

August 26, 2021 Written by Christy Mannering | Photo courtesy of Jake Gioffre

Research internship provides Jake Gioffre with a double dose of hands-on learning 

While virtual learning certainly has its place in research, sometimes the call of the field, the lab or the greenhouse is too strong.

When the spring semester came to an end, incoming senior Jake Gioffre approached Jeff Fuhrmann, professor of soil and environmental microbiology. The sustainable food systems major craved a hands-on, scientific experience. Thanks to the support of the Center for Food Systems and Sustainability (CENFOODS), his insatiable desire led him to an internship under the tutelage of Fuhrmann and Nicole Donofrio, professor of plant pathology. 

Gioffre took part in a busy summer of science, working on two different research projects in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

“Both projects are based in Fischer Greenhouse and involve plant-microbe interactions,” explained Gioffre. “The study with Dr. Fuhrmann involves a mutualistic plant-microbe interaction between soybean plants and a type of bacteria. The project with Dr. Donofrio involves a parasitic plant-microbe interaction between barley plants and a kind of fungus.”

Gioffre worked closely with a biological sciences Ph.D. student Vanessa Richards, who is analyzing soybean bradyrhizobia that form root nodules and symbiotically fix nitrogen with soybean. 

“Our hope is that we will be able to find connections between the results of DNA sequencing of the bacteria [genetic properties] and their nitrogen-fixing abilities as determined by the greenhouse experiment,” shared Fuhrmann. “We are also examining how viruses that infect and reside on the bacterial chromosomes affect symbiotic effectiveness and other traits essential to the ecology of bradyrhizobia.”

Gioffre handles the greenhouse experiment’s day-to-day monitoring and watering. Once the greenhouse experiment is ready to be harvested, he conducts sample processing, data collection, and statistical analysis. 

In the Donofrio Lab, Gioffre works with an amazing collection of barley seeds from all over the world.

“I am grateful to CENFOODS and Jake, who is starting from scratch with the seeds — cataloging and keeping track of the collection,” praised Donofrio. 

Gioffre learned to run inoculation experiments to find a spectrum of disease resistance and susceptibility to rice blast fungus.

“It is a wonderful opportunity to work on projects that highlight both sides of the spectrum of plant-microbe interactions, which is a topic I’m interested in learning more about and feel it’s most beneficial to learn by doing,” said Gioffre.

Calling future researchers

The CENFOODS Undergraduate Internship Program provides opportunities for current undergraduate students or recent graduates to engage in research projects or Cooperative Extension efforts. Applicants must be current undergraduate students or recent graduates (Class of 2020 or later) from the University of Delaware, Delaware State University, Wesley College or Delaware Technical Community College with a grade point average of 3.0 or above. The student must identify an internship mentor at the University of Delaware who is affiliated with CENFOODS as a full-time faculty member, Extension staff or research staff. 

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