eNews February 2020

NM WRRI Takes Part in U.S.-Mexico Border Solutions Alliance Convocation in Washington D.C.

By Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

Border communities often face a conundrum in that they are linked together culturally, economically, and through many shared natural resources; however, they are also separated by very distinct—and in many cases, physical—geopolitical borders. 192 million crossings were made at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2018, and nearly $600 billion dollars’ worth of goods and services flow through the 17 ports of entry, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. At the same time, political and historical developments create the reality of being on either side of two different countries.

This connected-yet-separate dual nature poses a unique set of challenges to these communities in areas such as public health, urban resilience, and the management of shared water resources. Recently, a convocation held in Washington D.C. on February 6, 2020 entitled, Data-Driven Discovery at the U.S.-Mexico Border brought together the Border Solutions Alliance. This consortium of universities and research institutions, including New Mexico State University and NM WRRI, presented an initial portfolio of data-driven, use-inspired research efforts to program sponsors and policymakers. Presentations converged around three topics: transformation of production, health and well-being, and regional sustainability.

As part of a “fireside chat” exploring regional sustainability focused on transboundary watersheds and aquifer resources, NM WRRI director Sam Fernald presented the case of the shared Mesilla Basin and Hueco Bolson aquifers between communities located at the border region of New Mexico, Texas, and the Mexican state of Chihuahua. While surface water is managed extensively in treaties between the U.S. and Mexico, ground water is really not considered at all. Sam emphasized that to study and manage those transboundary aquifers, we need more cross-border collaboration, including the sharing of seamless data across the border.

Last year, NM WRRI and New Mexico State University hosted a series of workshops with the Border Solutions Alliance to engage the research community along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border to begin identifying shared challenges that could benefit from the research being conducted by universities in border communities. The Border Solutions Alliance was launched by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorate, through its Smart and Connected Communities program. The Alliance brings together universities from both sides of the border, including the University of California at San Diego, University of Arizona, New Mexico State University, University of Texas at El Paso, University of Texas at San Antonio, Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, El Colegio de Sonora, Universidad Autónoma de Cuidad Juárez, Centro de Enseñanza Técnica Y Superior Universidad, and Tecnológico de Monterrey.

As a result of the convocation in Washington D.C., NM WRRI has agreed to work with the University of California at San Diego on a “digital twin,” which is a computer-based replica of a physical entity used to monitor and model certain aspects of a physical system. An open-source, multinational digital twin of the border region could be used to deliver water budgets with spatial visualization for end users such as farmers, cities, and agencies. Additionally, the NSF and non-partisan Wilson Center expressed interest in collaboration efforts to better understand water at the U.S.-Mexico border.

eNews February 2020

NMT Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Kimberly McNair is a graduate student in the Department of Biology at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMT) and is expecting to graduate in the spring of 2020 with a Master of Science degree. Last year she received a New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) Student Water Research Grant entitled, Tracking CRE in the Rio Grande: determining correlation between the appearance of antibiotic resistant bacteria in surface waters and local infection rates. The focus of McNair’s research is to uncover how the Rio Grande influences the spread of antibiotic resistance genes throughout the state of New Mexico.

Antibiotic resistance is a global health threat. Resistant infections are often acquired from healthcare settings due to frequent use of common antibacterial agents, but environmental factors likely play a role in transmission. Contamination of natural waterways via human activity can introduce pathogens to the surrounding area and downstream communities. Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) is an emerging group of antibiotic resistant microbes. Carbapenems are often used as a last line of defense to fight otherwise resistant bacterial infections and multiple studies have suggested that CRE can be present in surface waters.

McNair states, natural water sources can be contaminated by runoff or treated wastewater, carrying dangerous bacteria to previously unexposed populations. While these organisms may cause infection, they often have the ability to transfer resistance and virulence related genes to other bacteria in the surrounding environment. By tracking the appearance of certain antibiotic resistance genes over time, it may be possible to better understand where contaminants originate, and what role they play in causing disease. McNair is working on potentially establishing a link between contaminants and disease by comparing the genes carried by bacteria recovered from the Rio Grande to those found in local infections. If the river does play a role in spreading disease between communities, action may be taken to mitigate future risk.

For this project, water samples from the Rio Grande are filtered and examined for antibiotic resistance genes. Specifically, genes that convey resistance to carbapenems will be sought out. Water samples are collected every two months to check for any seasonal differences. Sudden changes in the water, such as the introduction of new genes, would indicate that the river has been contaminated by a new source, likely upstream of the sample site. Any bacteria found containing genes of interest will be sent off for DNA sequencing to determine its species. The observed organisms in the river will be compared to infection data from the New Mexico Department of Health. Correlation between bacteria or genetic elements from the environment and from hospitalized patients would suggest that the Rio Grande is involved in spreading infectious bacteria.

Results of the study indicate that two carbapenem resistance genes have been found in the Rio Grande: VIM and IMP. VIM and IMP had been recovered in water samples, but they have not yet appeared in clinical infections through 2017. The appearance of these genes in the environment may precede future clinical reports. The sources of these contaminants are unknown, however, demonstrating the presence of IMP on a mobilizable genetic element in the Rio Grande would have significant implications for how CRE spreads in New Mexico surface waters. Carbapenem resistance itself can spread between organisms, and prevalence of CRE in the river may increase. The dissemination of resistant bacteria and, by conjunction, carbapenem-resistance genes, would be harmful to the health and economic well-being of nearby residents.

As McNair explains, “It is important for us to know how our environment can spread disease, especially through important environmental resources like water.” McNair presented the results of her research at the NM WRRI 64th Annual New Mexico Water Conference, and the American Society of Microbiology Conference.

McNair, originally from Colorado Springs, received her bachelor’s degree in Biology from NMT. McNair is working on this project under the guidance of Dr. Linda DeVeaux, an Associate Professor and the Biology Department Chair at NMT. After graduation, McNair hopes to continue her work in microbiology, possibly working in industry with a focus on pathogens, epidemiology, or public health.

eNews February 2020

Meet the Researcher Matteo Serena, Research Assistant Professor, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

Matteo Serena is a Research Assistant Professor in the Plant and Environmental Sciences Department in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University (NMSU). He is responsible for conducting field experiments for the Turfgrass Research Extension Program. This aspect of his position provides opportunities for him to apply his expertise in conserving water in turfgrass, saline water use, and measuring how moisture sensors are affected by soil salinity.

Serena earned his BS and MS degrees in Agriculture and Agricultural Technology from the University of Padua (UP) in Padova, Italy in 2004 and 2007, respectively. He continued his research at UP in the Department of Vegetable Production and Plant Protection, where he assisted in coursework on forage management, and turfgrass science. After applying to NMSU, Matteo began work as a Research Assistant under the advisement of Dr. Bernd Leinauer. In 2009, he became a Graduate Research Assistant, with special interests in the effects of polymer coating on germination and establishment of turfgrasses, and soils surfactants to improve drought tolerance. While in this position, Serena also supported environmental soil science work and assisted non-native English speakers with their writing. He completed his PhD in Plant and Environmental Sciences in 2014 at NMSU. His PhD project, Turfgrass establishment and fertilization under subsurface drip and saline irrigation, was partially funded by the Rio Grande Basin Initiative. Following his graduation, Serena attained his current position as a Research Assistant Professor. Matteo’s research interests include screening chemicals to improve drought tolerance, calibrating soil moisture sensors, studying pre-emergence control for summer and winter annuals (poa annua), and examining irrigation with recycled and/or high saline water and subsequent effects on plant and soil quality.

Matteo and his colleagues are currently working on a project called, Surfactants for water conservation and their impact on soil health. This project involves two turfgrass species, a warm-season (bermudagrass), and a cool-season (Kentucky bluegrass), which receive either normal or reduced amounts of water. The two types are then treated with multiple soil surfactants, including two industry standard formulations (synthetic), and two certified organic products. These are compared to untreated areas, and at the end of the year are evaluated by their soil health characteristics (soil chemical, physical and biological properties). The goal of this project is to investigate whether these soil surfactants (synthetic or organic) increase or decrease soil health, and if they help conserve water in turfgrass.

Serena is also involved with another study entitled, Evaluating plant growth regulators and the soil surfactant Revolution® to alleviate drought stress in bermudagrass. According to Matteo, plant growth regulators (PGR) and soil surfactants are commonly used for golf course maintenance, and his colleagues have documented the combination of the PGR Trinexapac-ethyl and the soil surfactant Revolution® reduces the need for frequent irrigation and keeps turf quality high. Through an accompanying study, he is hoping to test five different PGRs applied separately, or in combination with the soil surfactant Revolution®, at two irrigation levels to identify the most effective treatment to help golf course superintendents save up to 25% of the irrigation water they currently use.

In regards to his research department, Matteo expressed that he would like to recognize the entire turfgrass team at NMSU, in particular Dr. Bernd Leinauer and Dr. Elena Sevostianova, two graduate students, and the undergraduate students that help in their research. Matteo and his team are always thankful for the numerous people supporting their program, and has indicated that he would be interested in partnering with NM WRRI in order to gain more support for the importance of turfgrass, and the economic impacts it has in the state of New Mexico (e.g. golf tourism).

Throughout his career, Serena has been an author on over twenty-five peer-reviewed articles, with his most recent work entitled, Irrigation scheduling technologies reduce water use and maintain turfgrass quality, being accepted for publication later this year for the Agronomy Journal. Since 2016, he has also been an active member of the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program, and the Southwest Turfgrass Association, which are two national research committees for promoting water conservation in turfgrass.

When asked about future plans, Matteo stressed the importance of handling water properly, and stated that some of his goals were to “promote an intelligent use of our irrigation water, and to have no waste when irrigating the landscape. Every day we see water running down the sidewalk, irrigation occurring after (or during) the occasional rain, or general misuse of water in the landscape. We still need turfgrass in our environment, for the numerous benefits it gives us, and we need to be aware that plants do not waste water, people do.”