Request for Expressions of Interest

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Action Plan

Week 1: get familiar with the university and laboratory orientations and staff introduction

Week 2: tour visit rice farms and laboratory in rice straw management

Week 3: study U.S experience in reducing greenhouse gas emission in rice production.

Week 4 and 5: learn more skills and approaches in develop the greenhouse gas emission factors in rice production and predict the greenhouse gas emission generation from different strategies of rice straw management.

Week 6 and 7: learn about the environmental, economic and social assessment and strategies how to transfer new technologies to farmers and local authorities effectively.

Week 8 and 9: prepare detail proposal with U.S. mentor for the following up activities after back to Vietnam.

Fellow 2 – Bangladesh, Climate Smart Agriculture

1. The goal of my research proposal is to develop suitable soilless culture system for growing vegetable crops in saline affected Southern district of Bangladesh.

2. The specific objectives of the proposed research include- i). find a simplified and suitable soilless hydroponic system for growing vegetable crops and ii). find a suitable coco-dust based substrate mixture for growing first gowning and high value vegetable crops.

3. Salinity in agricultural land is one of the major natural hazards hampering crop production in the Southern districts of Bangladesh. These areas constitute 20% of the country of which about 53% are affected by different degrees of salinity every year. As a result, agricultural land uses are limited in these areas declining land productivity. Moreover, scarcity of quality irrigation water during dry season limits cultivation of winter vegetable crops. This is one of the major concerns of food security problem in the country. Thus, it has become imperative to explore the possibilities of increasing potential of these lands for food crop production as a means of combating salinization problem, a direct effect of climate change. Soilless culture is the modern intensive cultivation system of plants that use either inert organic or inorganic substrate through nutrient solution nourishment. It is possibly the most intensive method of crop production providing efficient use of water resource and mineral nutrients with minimal use of space. It can be used for cultivating fast growing high value horticultural crops such as lettuce, spinach, basil, tomatoes, cucumber, green chilli, capsicum, gourds, and strawberries etc. Therefore, as an alternative cultivation method this cultivation techniques would be a means of increasing agricultural land use and crop productivity.

4. During the fellowship, I hope to develop the suitable soilless cultivation technique for growing vegetables in Southern part of Bangladesh. Finding suitable soilless growing methods and substrates or their mixtures would be a great advantage in these areas. Simple soilless culture methods will be studied for different vegetable crops during the fellowship. Coco-dust is a byproduct of coconut fiber industry in the Southern region of the country. This byproduct is inexpensive and locally available. Through this fellowship, appropriate coco-dust based substrates will be investigated for sustainable vegetable production in the southern regions. Coco-dust in combination with different inert substrate such as perlite, pumice, extended clay, biochar etc. will be studied. My research interest is to develop simplified soilless hydroponic systems, substrates and substrate mixtures for growing vegetables in Bangladesh. I am also interested to do research on specialty crop production through hydroponics having bioactive compounds providing human health benefits. During my doctoral research in Japan, I investigated different soilless substrate such as perlite, perlite, pumice etc. for growing sweet potato, zinger and carrot. I have standardized perlite size and concentration of Enshishoo nutrient solution for growing carrot hydroponically using perlite (Asaduzzaman et al., 2013). After returning Bangladesh I am continuing research on use of locally available, inexpensive, suitable substrates and/or their appropriate mixture for gowning high value vegetables. In our lab, we studied the effect of coco dust and its mixture with sand on the growth, yield and fruit quality of strawberry against solution culture (Mollik et al., 2015). I have a great interest on the practical use of the soilless hydroponics as an alternative cultivation method especially in Southern coastal region with salinity problem and also in the North Western part of Bangladesh having water scarcity for irrigation. My aim is also to establish greenhouse facilities for studying soilless culture techniques in my institute. During my doctoral course research I have learnt the hydroponic techniques of vegetables and ornamental crop production, design and composition of nutrient solution in the greenhouse and controlled environment agriculture research facilities. Therefore, I hope to achieve the goals of proposed program under this fellowship. Through my proposed program, I want to develop feasible soilless culture techniques for our country and so, my mentor in the U.S. will assist me modeling the growing system, choice of substrate, substrate mixture, substrate properties and quality of crops.

5. The successful completion of the program will enable me to recommend suitable soilless culture methods for growing vegetable crops in the southern part of the country where crop production is limited by salinity, scarcity of quality irrigation water. This type of research will increase the agricultural production in a sustainable way that will ensure the food security of the country. Therefore, development and practical use of soilless cultures system using coco-dust based substrate will reduce the cost of production and also improve nutritional status of the people in the southern part. In Bangladesh, coco-dust is considered as most easily available, cheap, and indigenous soilless substrate for growing several crops. The coconut industries in the southern districts produce coco-dust as byproduct. Therefore, use of these unutilized coconut substrate in the soilless culture would be highly beneficial for maintaining environmental balance, and in turn use for plant cultivation. Moreover, in Bangladesh problems of agricultural land use such soil exhaustion, pest infestation, or chemical interference is increasing greatly due to intensive cropping, injudicious application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, or continuous monoculture. In this regard, soilless hydroponics can avoid these problems with monoculture of plants in the same land for years. It can provide several major advantages in the management of both plant nutrition and plant protection leading to maximized yield of crops. Therefore, the program has opportunities of increasing agricultural productivity greatly in Bangladesh. The outcomes in terms of my gathered knowledge and research know-how form the fellowship program will specially benefit my country after my return. As a researcher of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, I can readily apply these research methodologies in my institute.

The proposed research program has been planned in such a way so that it can be accomplished within the stipulated fellowship period.
Action Plan
Week 1:

Activity: Introduction of the proposed program, terms and conditions, and goals of the fellowship program. Introduction to the assigned research coordinator and acquaintance with research facilities therein. Presentation and discussion of the proposed research program with the host researcher or other research groups.

Outcomes: A well planned work schedule and settlement will lead a successful completion of the research program. Therefore, good understanding between me and host researcher will lead useful outcomes.
Week 2-3:

Activity: Preparation and collection of the experimental materials such as seeds of lettuce, basil and spinach, cell trays, vermiculite, and urethane foam, coco-dust, perlite, pumice, zeolite etc. Deciding the experimental methods, nutrient solution concentrations, and growth condition such as in greenhouse or growth chambers. Preparation of coco-dust based substrate mixtures for growing short duration vegetables. Seed will be sown on the cell trays and then transferred in the soilless hydroponics systems.

Outcomes: At the end of this week we will be able to prepare the planting materials and determine methods of the experiment.
Week 4-6:

Activity: Building different system for soilless culture using low cost materials or environment friendly materials. One or more layers of grow bed will also be included in the system. Considering coco-dust as base substrate, other inert media like perlite, pumice, and geolite will be incorporated with it in the ratio of 100:0, 75:25, 50:50, 25:75, and 0:100. EC, pH, amount of supplied nutrient solution will be adjusted according to crop species. Regular monitoring and crop growth management will be done when necessary.

Outcomes: Sustained plant growth will be obtained.
Week 7-10:

Activity: After attaining full vegetative growth all three plant species will be harvested and data on growth parameters will be measured. Amount of nutrient solution applied will be recorded to determined crop requirement during entire crop growth period. At each steps consultation will be taken from the host researcher/coordinator.

Outcomes: Termination of the experiments after successful investigation of several substrate mixtures. Difference in plant growth at different substrate is expected to be observed for each vegetable plant species.
Week 11-12:

Activity: Statistical analysis of the gathered data, their interpretation, presentation and report writing for it possible publication. Getting instructions for follow up research activities and preparation for departure.

Outcomes: The successful completion of the fellowship will enable me to reproduce to methodologies in producing local vegetables with enhanced minerals in Bangladesh.
Fellow 3 – India, Climate Smart Agriculture
1. The goal of my research is to develop transgene-free rice cultivars with an improved tolerance to salinity and drought stress.

2. miRNAs are a class of small endogenous non–coding RNA molecules, playing regulatory roles in gene expression at the posttranscriptional level by mediating mRNA degradation or translational repression of their target genes in a sequence specific manner. These miRNAs can act as both positive and negative regulators in regulating stress responsive genes and thereby involves in stress tolerance or susceptibility (Covarrbias and Royes, 2010). Hence, taking the advantage of well characterized miRNAs and recently developed RNA-guided genome editing approach, I plan to knock out miRNAs that are negative regulators during various stress conditions using CRISPR/Cas9 system to develop transgene-free salt and drought tolerant rice genotypes.

3. miRNAs are a class of small endogenous non–coding RNA molecules that play a vital role in various plant processes including abiotic stress tolerance. There have been reports suggesting the knock down of some miRNAs could enhance abiotic stress tolerance in plants. Therefore, I would like to use CRISPR/Cas9 tool, a recently developed genome editing method, to target miRNA genes in rice that have negative roles in stress tolerance. This study would help to generate transgene rice cultivars that would perform better in adverse conditions.

4. Genome editing methods including CRISPR/Cas9 is well established for targeting genes in mammalian genomes. However the application of this technology is still limited in the field of plant biology. Recently few publications have come out describing use of this technology for crop improvement. Nevertheless, no report is available from India. Dr. Voytas from University of Minnesota and Dr. Feng Zhang from Massachusetts Institute of technology have extensively used this technology for various trait improvements in plants. Being a young researcher, the interaction with the experts like them would greatly help me to use this CRISPR/Cas9 based approach for crop improvement.

5. M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation was started with a great vision for sustainable agriculture by Agricultural Scientist M. S. Swaminathan, First recipient of world food prize. His idea has helped our Biotechnology team at MSSRF to explore genes from mangroves for developing crops with an improved tolerance to abiotic stresses. Transgenic plants harboring genes from mangroves are shown to have an increased tolerance to salinity. Research experience gained from US laboratory through Borlaug Fellowship on genome editing methods for targeting genes would greatly help to increase the rice productivity under adverse conditions such as high salinity and drought. Further collaboration with U.S Scientist will help to establish genome editing methods for other crops for increasing agricultural productivity in the era of climate change.
First week:

  • 1. Visit to the U.S laboratories and their University campus

  • 2. Discussion about the proposal and the work plan

Second week:

  • 1. Selection of miRNAs (microRNAs) that are to be targeted using CRISPR/Cas9 for rice abiotic stress tolerance. At least two miRNAs would be selected (after having discussions with U.S Scientist) that have negative roles in abiotic stress tolerance.

  • 2. Design and synthesis of highly sequence-specific gRNAs to target miRNA genes. Two guide RNAs for each miRNAs would be synthesized for checking their efficiency.

    1. weeks:

  • 1. Cloning of guide RNAs targeting miRNAs and Cas9 (Nuclease) in plant transformation vector. Two gRNAs targeting each miRNAs will be cloned in the same plant expression vector.

  • 2. Confirmation of cloning guide RNAs and Cas9 at appropriate sites using sequence analysis.

8-12 weeks:

  • 1. Isolation of healthy protoplasts from rice using the available standard protocol.

  • 2. Validation of constructs (plant expression vectors) harboring guide RNAs targeting miRNAs and Cas9 in rice protoplast. Constructs will be transformed into rice protoplast using PEG mediated transformation. The efficiency of guide RNA will be analyzed using PCR. The best performing will be used for further stable transformation. Stable transformation will be carried out at M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, India

Fellow 4 – Costa Rica, Climate Smart Agriculture
1. The goal of my research is to understand how climate smart agriculture practices impact soil respiration components and soil carbon stability.
2. The specific research objectives that will help to achieve my goal are:

a. To assess the importance of the major biotic and abiotic drivers that determine soil surface carbon dioxide (CO2) partitioning, on the field and under controlled conditions (incubation techniques and microcosms).

b. To improve my understanding of how soil carbon stability contributes to climate change mitigation and how it links to surface CO2 measurements.
3. Due to climatic predictions for the next years [1] , there is an urgent need to implement adaptation and mitigation strategies that generate synergic effects on the agriculture. In this context, the Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) concept emerged as a new approach to guide the needed changes in agriculture, with the aim of addressing resilience to climate change and enhancing food security [2]. One of the key CSA practices is increasing soil organic carbon (SOC), through changes in cultural practices (i.e. soil covers, use of agricultural residues). SOC improves nutrient and water intake by plants, with a direct effect on yields and resource efficiency, contributing to the agroecosystem’s resilience and efficiency. Although agriculture could aid to mitigate climate change, in the tropics there is still limited knowledge regarding carbon stocks measurements and the dynamics that determine carbon residence in time, and particularly how grazing periods, fertilization doses, time of application, and organic amendments influence and alter carbon storage. Some of this knowledge can be generated through the combination of traditional carbon analysis and novel isotopic techniques. Additionally, isotopic techniques can help to understand how weather influences the amount of soil surface CO2 (soil respiration here onwards), the sum of the autotrophic (plant derived –roots) and heterotrophic (the turnover of soil organic carbon) respiration, allowing a better comprehension of the carbon cycle. The use of isotopes allow partitioning of the plant and soil derived fluxes, with the soil derived CO2 being important as it provides information of the long-term overall net C balance of the system [3]. This is information is crucial since soils hold a substantial amount of C and through the exchange of CO2 with the atmosphere have the ability of act as a carbon sink or source[4]. This knowledge is fundamental to evaluate if CSA practices are contributing to CO2 capture or if they are providing substrate for easy turnover and return of even more CO2 to the atmosphere.
4. During this fellowship, I want to use stable isotopic techniques such as 13C labeled material, 13CO2 measurements and 13C composition of soil, plants and roots to follow soil-carbon turnover paths. I would intend to work both on the field and on microcosms to address the effect of management (chemical fertilization, irrigation, use of organic amendments among others) on soil respiration. I believe that the combination of 13C-13CO2 techniques along with the soil physical fractionation techniques is a powerful way to evaluate effects of management and land use change on soil organic pools. And I aim to produce 1 or 2 scientific publications with this work.

I am interested in learning isotopic techniques for partitioning soil respiration fluxes into Heterotrophic/autotrophic, and understanding trace gas emissions under CSA scenarios. I have a scientific background in plant ecophysiology, soil sciences and ecosystem gas exchange, and during the last two years, I have worked in the greenhouse gases (GHG) area through field trials and lab work. During my fellowship, I aim to improve my understanding of how CSA practices affect soil respiration components and the potential effects of climate change and/or litter quality changes in atmospheric CO2[6]. To address my research goals I would suggest carrying out this fellowship at the Department of Soil, Water and Climate of the University of Minnesota. This Department has several groups working in the GHG and the atmosphere-Earth interaction. Particularly important is the work by Dr. Rodney Venterea, who is addressing the biogeochemistry of elements that affect agricultural productivity, and the work of Dr. Timothy Griffis who is applying biometeorology techniques to study the interface soil-atmosphere. Both researchers have agreed to mentor me as part of this fellowship, what would be of great benefit for my research goals and will allow me to address some of the knowledge gaps regarding agricultural management effects on soil carbon.

5. In Costa Rica, 40% of the land is dedicated to agriculture and livestock, and although this sector produces 34% of the GHG it can contribute to climate change mitigation through temporal carbon fixation and long-term sequestration. This sector represents 14% of the gross internal product [7] and provides employment to 13% of the population, so any small improvement in soil quality, with longer residence of the organic component, might contribute to the mitigation of climate change and the adaptation to more drastic environments, improving directly the livelihood of small farmers in particular. With the Borlaug Fellowship I will be able of better quantifying carbon gain and loses, and improve our recommendations in terms of management. This will be a direct contribution to productivity and to the improvement of the farmers’ livelihood. As a lecturer in the Agronomy School of the University of Costa Rica, the acquired knowledge will also be transferred to students in lectures and thesis projects.

1.IPCC. 2007. 4th Assessment Report.

2.FAO. 2013. Climate Smart agriculture sourcebook. 570p.

3. Mildwood, A.J.; Millard, P. 2010. Rapid. Commun. Mass. Sp. 2011.25:232-242.

4. Beniston, J.W.; DuPont, S.T.,Glover, J.D.; Lal, R., Dungait J.E.J. 2014. Biogeochemistry. 120:37-49.

5.Machado, P.L.O.A; Sohi, S.P. Gaunt, J.L. Soil Use Manage. 2003. 19:250-256.

6.Cleveland, CC; Reed, SC; Keller, AB; Nemergut, DR; O'Neill, et al. Oecologia. 2014. 174:283-294

7. INEC.2014. VI National Agriculture Census. 146p.

Action Plan

Week 1. Planned outcome: to get familiarized with the lab, the field and stablish the experiments I will develop during my training.


1) Orientation, lab safety training, registration and introduction to sampling and carbon analysis (air, soil and isotopes).

2) Review of work plan, goals and more specific outcomes.

3) Visit to field site(s) and design or review of planned experiments (field and lab).

Weeks 2 – 3: Planned outcome: to set up first experiments in the microcosms and/or the field. Start learning some of the needed lab and field techniques.


1) Set in up of experiments

2) Training on lab techniques on soil carbon analysis: organic and inorganic carbo and sampling of (pitfalls), preparation analysis, and quality assurance and data analysis.

Weeks 4 – 5: Planned outcome: continue with the field/microcosms experiments. To start learning some of the isotopic techniques in more detail.


1) Training on lab stable isotopes techniques (13C and 13CO2)

a) principles of stable isotopes use; b) sample preparation from different matrices (soil, plant tissues) and c) sample analysis and quality assurance procedures.

Weeks 6 – 7: Planned outcome: continue with the field/microcosms experiments. Start learning some of the field techniques and to explore other methods.


1) Training on field techniques to assess "soil respiration" gross estimation and partitioning (isotopic and non-isotopic techniques).

a) Optimum chamber design for 13CO2 fluxes (closed, open and dynamic systems); b) Non isotopic methods to partition soil respiration; and c) Equipment installation and troubleshooting.

Week 8: Planned outcome: continue with experiments, start data analysis and drafting of paper.


1) Training on data analysis including keeling plot techniques, isopotomer flux ratio, flux partitioning method and paper drafting.
Week 9: Planned outcome: continue with field measurements, paper writing, and data analysis. Discuss possible experimental set-up for Costa Rica.


1) Design of field experiments for the analysis of land use change, and plant species composition effect on soil respiration and paper drafting.
Weeks 10 - 11. Planned outcome: continue with field measurements, paper writing, and data analysis.


1) Data analysis and paper drafting.
Week 12. Planned outcome: review of activities carried out and discuss in detail further collaboration.

Activities: 13) Review/Summary, possible materials: materials to build microcosms, soil anchors for chamber measurements, labelled 13C material, 13CO2.

Fellow 5 – Colombia – Climate Smart Agriculture

The goal of my research is to estimate GHG fluxes and to understand the factors that control them based on eddy covariance (EC) measurements over a mechanized crop in Colombian Orinoco River High Plains.

We have already achieved a stable, dependable EC measurement system. To compare different eddy covariance set-ups and complementary measurements (e.g. static chambers) with our system set-up. To perform rigorous processing of eddy covariance data set, quality control including spectral and cospectral data analysis and footprint. To implement a methodology for eddy covariance data gap filling and flux-partitioning. To analyze fluxes and complementary variables data and determine the GHG fluxes controlling factors.
In our current globalized economy large increases in land use change and intensification of agriculture are inevitable due to an increasing need for the production of food and raw materials as well as the search for alternative energy sources e.g. biofuel feedstock production. FAO estimates that agriculture area increase ~ 132 million ha in the countries that are projected to increase land under crops (most of it in countries of sub- Saharan Africa and Latin America) by 2050. Through legal reforms, institutional and economic infrastructure development as well as improved efficiency, Brazil, Argentina and other Latin American countries have increased their agricultural production dramatically since the 1990s.
In Colombia agricultural land has also been growing, particularly in the Orinoco River region, a tropical savanna ecosystem that covers 18% of Colombia. The ecosystem and agricultural transformation processes in this region are similar to those carried out in the Brazilian Cerrado. Until few decades ago, cattle ranching was dominating but now the region undergoes rapid agricultural expansion. The cultivated area and agricultural production has increased by more than 50% between 1996 and 2007, in recent years, agricultural and industrial investors have acquired almost 200.000 hectares and invested more than 1.4 billion dollars in intensive agricultural projects aimed at the production of biofuels (oil palm and sugar cane) and agro-industrial inputs (corn and soybeans).
Land use change and agriculture provide a substantial contribution to Colombian greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but is also a sector that with a large potential for mitigation. It is urgent to quantify current and potential GHG emissions associated with land use change. GHG emission inventories in developing countries usually use IPCC Tier 1 methodologies, which have large uncertainties. Better local measurements and more accurate inventories are needed to assess and implement socially, environmental, financially-sound mitigation options. We are currently conducting GHG flux measurements on mechanized conservation agriculture, using eddy covariance and portable chambers. Our measurements are aimed at quantifying GHG fluxes over a corn field and pastures and understanding the factors that control them. Although accurate, these studies are expensive, require a long time to conduct, and their applicability may be limited due to the tropical ecosystem variability. Modeling approaches with appropriate validation could be an affordable alternative for accurate GHG emission estimation. Our final goal is to implement a Process Based Model and validate it with our measurements in order to develop a cost-effective alternative for accurate GHG estimation in Colombian Orinoco High Plains.

I expect to improve my skills on the EC technique including data reduction and analysis. I want to develop a suitable computer codes for EC data analysis and make them available to our local EC community. My focus will be to build high quality EC time series. This is very important to validate/calibrate a Process Based Model.

My scientific experience has involved data measurement, data processing and analysis. That experience has allowed me to develop skills in large data set management. In my current project, I have to manage large data sets since the EC technique measures at 10Hz (10 data each second).
Getting support of researches with specific experience it is an excellent way to get high quality results in a short time and built new knowledge. Having a good quality time series guarantees accurate results, which is needed for emission estimation and evaluation of mitigation strategies.
The Borlaug Fellowship will improve our local capacity to estimate high quality agricultural GHG fluxes. These fluxes are going to be used for implementing and validating a Process Based Model which then will be used for estimating agricultural GHG emissions. This modeling approach will allow devising more accurate mitigation plans in agriculture. We expect this project to strengthen our local climate change mitigation strategies associated with agriculture, even under limited available information and funding conditions.
Agenda - Itinerary

To achieve the goals of the proposal I am planning to develop the following activities:

Week 1: I expect to meet the research group staff, get to know the activities of the research group and projects that they are currently developing.

Week 2: I am going to present my research project, objectives and preliminary time series. I hope that we can discuss about my preliminary results and look for strategies for data gap filling and data analysis.

Week 3: I expect to visit a measuring site, compere my EC site with those EC towers and get to know the strategies for quality control and quality assessment. I would like to know deeply the process of data analysis that they are performing in their data.

Weeks 4 – 6: I am going to process my data. I will perform a new data analysis taking in account the advice of my mentor and colleges. I will get a new time series. During this stage I am going to make data quality control process.

Week 7: I am going to analyze fluxes data and develop the computer code to do it.

Week 8: I am going to analyze meteorological and complementary variables data and develop the computer code to do it.

Weeks – 9 – 10: I am going to identify and implement a methodology for data gap filling and flux partitioning.

Weeks 11 – 12: I am going to compile the results and write a report and discuss the result with my colleges.

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