We are the lab of Dr. Sunshine Van Bael at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Although we have several projects investigating community-level dynamics of plants and microbes, this website focuses on our work in salt marshes. Our previous efforts demonstrated the influence of the 2010 BP oil spill on the endophyte communities of Spartina alterniflora (smooth cordgrass) in Louisiana salt marshes.

In the spring of 2016, funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), we kicked off a new project to test the hypothesis that bacteria living inside smooth cordgrass may be involved in the breakdown of oil. Our results might help to guide us as a society in the ways we manage salt marshes and oil spills. For the next two years we are running a greenhouse experiment to examine where, when, and how the microbial community changes after oil exposure, and how the oil in the plant tissues and soil breaks down over time. Simultaneously we will be analyzing natural communities in marshes to understand how the community continues to develop since exposure to oil.

This description just scratches the surface, or course, and there are many experiments being conducted by many people throughout the project. We have a small army of scientists, and our efforts are in collaboration with the Pardue Lab at LSU, the Gunsch Lab at Duke University, the Papadopoulos Lab at Tulane and Lisa Fauci of the Tulane Mathematics Department, the Blum lab at Tulane, and the Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane and Xavier Universities.

IMG_0021IMG_0082Rachel collecting mud.IMG_3069IMG_3095IMG_3106Experiment Day 1! After seedlings are transplanted to screened marsh mud20160430_134152

Local biology teachers visit the lab to obtain research experience

In June, three schoolteachers from New Orleans joined our lab work to obtain research experience. They are participating in the National Science Foundation's Research Experience for Teachers program. They each came to the Van Bael lab for several days to get...
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Can Bacteria Living in Plant Tissues Help Clean Up Oiled Marshes?

GoMRI wrote up a nice article on our work. You can check it out...
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Stories from Rebecca’s First Marsh Trip!

September 11, 2016 Today was my first day out on the marsh! In one day, I became a gate-keeper, a field scientist, and briefly, a storm trooper but not the Star Wars kind. In the morning, Steve and I drove to Mardi Gras World to get the boat and hook it up to the...
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Aphids (I think) are buggin’ our plants.

We have insects on our plants. A natural thing to have happen, but kind of a bummer because we have to remove them while trying not to affect the microbial community with chemicals. The insects seem to be aphids, though I have no idea about species, I'm a pretty...
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Steve presents at ESA 2016

Steve presented an analysis of the microbial communities in the Spartina alterniflora root zone soil at the ESA 2016 meeting in Ft. Lauderdale, FL! GoMRI also funded this earlier work, a comparison of 16S and ITS amplicon data in a heavily oiled and a lightly oiled...
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Makin movies about GoMRI

Here is another belated update. Back on July 17th we went out to our marsh site with a film crew that is making a documentary on the oil spill and the research that is resulting from it. Then next day we showed them the greenhouse work and got some killer shots of...
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Tasty mud for our greenhouse plants…

Back on July 15th we went out to Bay Jimmy to get some mud for our greenhouse plants. The idea is that by adding the marsh mud to our pots, we'll help to maintain our microbial communities in the soil and grass. It was a fun trip that started with a beautiful day...
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GOMRI video

Here is a video interview with Dr. Sunshine Van Bael at the 2016 GoMRI meeting in Tampa, FL. She gives some background for our work as well as some of our new goals and projects.
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Greenhouse Project Setup

In November 2015, we started by collecting seed to grow endophyte-low Spartina alterniflora plants.   After over-wintering the seeds, we surface sterilized them... ...and grew them in a growth chamber We let them grow for about 3 months and moved the trays to the...
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Soon to come…

Soon to come: a most excellent blog with tales of salt marsh microbia and oil.
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Smooth Cordgrass Project of the Van Bael Lab at Tulane University