Current and past research broadly encompasses the dynamics of terrestrial plant-environment feedback from physiological to landscape scales. Current themes include;
(a) How ‘stress’ response trade-offs shape physiological processes and its ecological implication. E.g of study outcomes: ‘limiting-stress-elimination hypothesis’, novel h-HB growth promoters as fertilizer alternative.
(b) the role of plant response coordination to survival. E.g of study outcome: homeotherm-like response in macrophytes to hydrothermal stress.
Modeling resource allocation in tree-pollinator systems
Work with Dr Tonya Lander at Oxford explores how pollinators influence carbon and energy flows across modified landscapes. This understanding will afford us better sustainable and innovative ways to improve and predict for e.g, yields. I am particularly interested in cacao (self-incompatible group) and their pollinators (mostly Ceratopogonidae). A conundrum exists, as to why only approximately < 1% of initiated reproductive resource translates into pod yields. This is tricky but exciting, as it involves an inter-dependent linkage between the cacao tree and its pollinators. One has to do with a biological mystery of cacao (cauliflourous allocation) that deviates from general allocation strategies in fruit trees, and the other, the behavior and ecology of it’s obligate ‘life partners’, pollinators. So its more of what to do to satisfy both, and how this understanding can be applied to sustain cocoa production currently predicted to decline globally by 2050. Or lets say, for the chocolates:)
Collaborators: Dr. Tonya Lander lab (PI), University of Oxford, United Kingdom; Prof Teja Tscharntke group including Dr. Thomas C. Wanger and Manuel Toledo at George-August Universitat Gottingen, Germany.
Green Cooling Towers
The image below is a model of the world’s first green cooling tower: an engineered vertical wetland system for cooling domestic-industrial scale infrastructures while sequestering carbon. The first experimental prototype was built together with students and faculty collaborators from Yale School of Architecture, School of Engineering and Applied Science, Geology and Geophysics and the Yale School for the Environment with funding support from the National Science Foundation, Yale Institute of Biosphere Studies and Yale Sustainability Plan 2025 initiative.
Figure 1: thermoGreenWall™ in-series design. A green cooling tower technology prototype that integrates the thermodynamic function of a constructed wetland, green wall design, and cooling tower.
Figure 2. Operational comparison of traditional cooling tower with thermoGreenWall. Source: Atta-Boateng et. al 2019 Ecol Eng. Applying 1st law of thermodynamics, plants convert rejected heat energy into carbon. Design flexibility allows wetlands, which sequester carbon more than twice as forests per unit area to be integrated into future green cities as ‘urban wetlands’. The configuration also allows easy integration of smart sensors & IoT application to customize microclimate for human thermal comfort in indoor/outdoor space.
Figure 3. Cost-benefit of traditional cooling towers vs tGW. Design flexibility affords tGW an urban landscape and architectural apeal. Collaborators: Prof. Alexander Felson, Yale School of Architecture; Prof Corey O’hern, Dept of Physics, Applied Physics, Mechanical Engineering & Material Science, Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, Graduate Integrated Program in Physical and Engineering Biology, Yale University.
Of course, I also enjoy thinking about plant research applications relevant to Agriculture, Forestry, and Ecology. After all, we’ve got to eat and enjoy the serenity of a beautiful environment when we can.
Non-hormonal Organic Biostimulants
The idea is to optimize how crops respond to environmental stress. Even more efficiently, we extend Carl Sprengel and Justus Von Liebig’s Law of the Minimum to attain incredible yields without the need to regulate genes. Our approach has maximized cowpea yield in the Guinea savanna ecological zone of sub-Sahara Africa. Below is harvested yield from a glass house trials with R. sativus.
Collaborator: Prof Graeme Berlyn, E. H. Harriman Professor of Forest Management and Physiology of Trees, Yale University. See related concept paper: Atta-Boateng & Berlyn, 2019, biorxiv
Most terrestrial plants interact continuously with soil and or the atmosphere by exchanging materials through the plant vascular system. The vascular system acts as a transport channel/conduit that links belowground processes to aboveground processes. Hypothetically, the vascular system consists of the xylem and phloem conduit tissues. These are microscopic pipes analogous to the human circulatory system, except without a pumping organ like the heart. Trees, however, transport water and soil mineral over long distances against gravity by a myriad of factors mostly defined by physical forces, conduit morphology, sap composition and evapotranspiration drivers at the leaf boundary layer. To date, the Cohesion-Tension theory is best known to explain this phenomenon. I have an interest in the direct and indirect influence of stress response on hydraulic properties of trees.
The mechanism of vascular transport may be governed by complex bio-chemo-physical factors not well understood. These factors can be regulated internally (at the anatomic, biochemicals or molecular levels) and externally by biotic and abiotic stresses. Stresses can influence plant physiological functioning by external stimulation of internal signaling to initiate responses that adjust physiological processes to restore a functional equilibrium state. Ongoing studies suggest that some level of internal responses may be independent of external stresses (Atta-Boateng & Berlyn, unpub.). It is unclear how significant intrinsic responses influence xylem hydraulic function and phloem loading. An understanding of vascular function may have significant implications beyond the physiological scale to plant- environment feedback dynamics.