Support for OSC resources in plant communication research at Xavier University


COLUMBUS, Ohio, November 1, 2021 – Scientists know that plants emit chemicals into the soil to communicate information to other plants. These chemical messages, sent through fungal networks, can warn plants to defend themselves against threats in their environment or to stop encroaching on another plant’s space.

Jonathan and Kathryn Morris working at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Photo credit: ORNL / Geneviève Martin

Scientists such as Jonathan Morris and Kathryn Morris of Xavier University are seeking to learn more about how fungal networks work as communication channels. In addition to conducting experiments with plants at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the married researchers are using the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) to develop simulations of how chemicals move through the soil.

The research results will be of interest to other scientists studying plant ecology and will be applicable to agricultural management.

“This research gives us a better understanding of how herbicides move when applied to agricultural crops and a better understanding of the chemical interaction in ecology,” said Kathyrn Morris, associate professor of biology.

The project also provided critical hands-on experience in computational modeling to several Xavier University undergraduates involved in the research, said Jonathan Morris, associate professor of physics.

While computer modeling is a skill that physics, math, or computer science majors expect to learn and use, biology students may not initially see the connection to their discipline or think they will be good at it, noted. Jonathan Morris. But the biology majors of the Plant Communication Project quickly learned to work with MATLAB code and computer modeling through their work with OSC, he said. One student confirmed that the experience opened the doors to new internship opportunities.

Using the OSC for the research project also allowed faculty and students to access computer servers and work together on code in real time and remotely during the pandemic, Jonathan Morris said.

“It’s a well-packaged resource that allows for easy collaboration that is beyond the scope of what a small undergraduate research university like Xavier could dream of having,” he said.

As research on plant communication continues at the OSC, Xavier University plans to expand its use of the Centre’s classroom resources, said Jonathan Morris. The faculty member is already using OSC in their Introductory Computer Science course, in which students use MATLAB software and the OnDemand web portal to complete their homework. As part of a new major in data science at Xavier, undergraduates will also use OSC resources in machine learning and high performance computing courses.

About the OSC

The Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) responds to the growing computational demands of academic and industrial research communities by providing a robust shared infrastructure and proven expertise in advanced modeling, simulation and analysis. The OSC provides scientists with essential services to make extraordinary discoveries and innovations, partners with business and industry to harness computer science as a competitive force in the global knowledge economy, and leads efforts to equip the workforce with the key technological skills required for 21st century jobs.

Source: Ohio Supercomputer Center

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