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Invasives With a Positive Impact?

Joey Ooka’s PhD Defense will cover the impact of leaf litter on crop growth

  • 16 March 2022
  • Author: Mark Berthold
  • Number of views: 825
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Invasives With a Positive Impact?

My name is Joey Ooka and I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Dept. of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering, working in the lab of Daniel Owens.

On April 14, I’m hosting a virtual Ph.D Dissertation Defense to discuss my project “The Utilization of Natural Products for Agricultural Benefit.” Please join me!

  • April 14, starting at 10:30 a.m. on Zoom.

My project surveys a variety of native and invasive plants, and how their leaf litter affects the growth of crop plants. I focus on the invasive strawberry guava, which is taking over native forests and reducing watershed efficiency. I’m trying to characterize the plant growth inhibition effects observed in nature. I tested leaf litter on agricultural weeds, pigweed and barnyard grass in hopes of actually using strawberry guava to create a local herbicide, or whose leaf litter can be used as mulch by local farmers and gardeners in their battle against weeds. Plants are constantly engaged in an invisible chemical battle with other species around them. By being observant and curious, we can ask important questions about what plants are capable of and how those capabilities can be adopted for humanity’s benefit. 

My project also encompasses computer molecular modeling. I will highlight the work done on an herbicidal target site, “hydroxyphenyl pyruvate dehydrogenase,” and its importance due to the rise in resistance of weeds to common herbicidal chemicals with glyphosates like Round up. Increasing our knowledge of plants within our local communities is needed for reforestation and restoration efforts, to remove and control invasive species, and to strengthen the connection between people and the life surrounding us. 

My project is a collaboration with David Horgen and Jessie Nguyen at Hawaiʻi Pacific University, who helped identify specific chemicals responsible for strawberry guava’s plant growth inhibition (results pending). I also collaborated with the University of Brasilia, USDA, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, University of Sao Paulo, and Franck Dayan at Colorado State University.

My work is part of a larger project with Sherry-Ann (Skylar) Hara, Akiho Uno, Rochelle Cadiente, Daniel Owens, David Knittel, and Rebecca (Arby) Barone, whose advice and passion brought this project to life.

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