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Ragweed research is nothing to sneeze at
Date:9/24/2007

To a person with a pollen allergy, an 18-acre ragweed field sounds like a sneezy, red-eyed zone of misery. But to two environmental engineering researchers at The Johns Hopkins University, the parcel presented a rare and valuable opportunity to learn how the troublesome weeds grow, reproduce and scatter their pollen under varying weather conditions.

Their findings, gathered with a mix of high-tech and low-tech tools, could lead to better ways to track the pollens travel and control the pesky plants spread, discoveries that could aid the 15 million people with ragweed allergies in the United States and Canada alone. And although the plant is native to North America, the nuisance appears to be spreading. Researchers say the plant has invaded China, Japan and parts of Australia, and is now moving rapidly across Europe as well. To address this problem, the Johns Hopkins team is using data from the 18-acre field to develop a computer model of ragweed pollen behavior. The model also could someday help to predict the spread of bioengineered corn pollen before it contaminates natural crops.

Under the guidance of several faculty advisers, the ragweed research is being carried out by Mike Martin, 23, and Marcelo Chamecki, 29, two doctoral students in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering in the universitys Whiting School of Engineering. At the onset of ragweed pollen season last year, the students set out to find a real-world lab site in which to collect data. Just outside of Washington, D.C., they stumbled upon an 18-acre piece of vacant land that was covered by a dense growth of the plant. With the property owners permission, they set up camera and computer equipment, meteorological gauges and pollen-collecting instruments to gather information about ragweed. They have spent the past year analyzing these data and hope to publish some of their findings soon in a scientific journal. The research will also serve as the fou
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Contact: Phil Sneiderman
prs@jhu.edu
443-287-9960
Johns Hopkins University
Source:Eurekalert

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