Finnish Scientist Visits Ashland University to Conduct Ecological Research
Finnish scientist Dr. Aki Sinkkonen, research fellow at the University of Helsinki, is spending a month this summer as a visiting scientist at Ashland University conducting research with Dr. Jeffrey Weidenhamer, trustees’ professor of chemistry at Ashland University.
Sinkkonen and Weidenhamer are conducting collaborative experiments on how the growth responses of plants to environmental toxins are modified by plant density, as well as exploring new approaches to data analysis from plant growth experiments.
“The results of these experiments that Dr. Sinkkonen and I are conducting may help in the development of bioassays to determine pollutant impacts,” Weidenhamer said. “As a result of this work, discussions and previous data that both of us have from previous experiments, there is a potential for a different way to analyze data that could be very useful to environmental scientists and ecologists.”
During his Ph.D. research, Dr. Weidenhamer discovered that because plants compete for toxins the way they do for nutrients, plants growing at low densities suffer greater growth reductions because they receive a larger dose of the toxins.
“This phenomenon has relevance to studies of phytoremediation – the use of plants to detoxify soils contaminated with high concentrations of heavy metals such as lead or cadmium, or organic toxins such as creosote,” Weidenhamer said.
Sinkkonen has extended this concept to develop mathematical models of plant growth in the presence of toxins, and has applied these models to the analysis of experimental data from plant growth studies.
Weidenhamer and Sinkkonen met several years ago at a conference in New York and this led to Sinkkonen connecting with Weidenhamer on this research.
“This is my first time conducting research in the United States,” Sinkkonen said. “I have had a very nice time here and I have learned a lot.”
Sinkkonen said he and Dr. Weidenhamer will publish the results of the experiments, but he is not sure about the future of the project. “We do not have funding for long-term research, but it all depends on the results,” he said.
The two have spent more than a month in research and are involved in six different experiments, each involving approximately 100 different potted plants. The responses of Arabidopsis, radish, lettuce, timothy and hollyhock to toxic levels of lead, cadmium and cooper are being studied as well as the effects of the natural toxin juglone from black walnut trees on the growth of tomato and marigold plants.
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