TWU student represents Canada as Weed Science Award recipient

Kathleen Campbell, fourth year honours biology student from Trinity Western University, was recently awarded the $1,000 Weed Science Society of America (WSSA) Undergraduate Award for her research on a local weed called the golden crown-beard. Out of the seven North American winners, TWU was the only Canadian university represented.

The golden crown-beard plant, also known as the cowpen daisy or verbesina encelioides in academic circles, is a weed that grows in and overtakes arid region. It's especially prevalent in the Americas, including Abbotsford. “In my thesis I'm trying to find out what the plant does to kill everything else,” says Campbell.

According to Campbell it's the plant's toxicity that shuts out other plant growth and kills animals that graze on it. “Study findings show that the plant releases a chemical that inhibits the growth of other plants. I'm trying to find out exactly where the plant is emitting the chemical,” says Campbell, who is following up where current studies have left off.

Campbell is working from the supposition that the toxicity is emerging from the roots, so she studies the water around the roots of the plant in search of chemicals as opposed to studying the leaves or another part of the plant that touches the soil.

“Basically, the point of my research is to understand how invasive species work and how they impact the environment,” she says. “It'll be a useful aid in the future when people are working to eradicate it.”

For now, Campbell's experiment is simple: “I germinate seeds in little Petri dishes, then I put the little mini plants into cups filled only with washed sand. Then I water and fertilize them so they don't die.”

The biggest challenge is getting the weeds to grow. “The weeds are really little right now. They often die, because they are growing in such a harsh environment,” says Campbell.

Once the plants have grown, Campbell will take the water out at different stages in the life of the plant and run it under TWU's High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) machine. This process will produce a graph that expresses specific chemicals and their concentrations.

Campbell first came across the weed on a TWU travel study class to Hawaii, led by David Clements, PhD, Campbell's thesis advisor. “The golden crown-beard weed was recently introduced in Hawaii and now it's of great concern,” says Clements.

Campbell is currently gathering research of scientists who have studied the golden crown-beard. She and Clements are hopeful that her compiled report will be published in the Pacific Science Journal.

The WSSA is an international organization with over 2,000 scientists involved. The mission is to gain a better understanding of how invasive plants relate to the environment.

Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a not-for-profit Christian liberal arts university enrolling over 3,300 students this year. With a broad based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 39 major areas of study ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 14 other graduate degrees including counselling psychology, theology and administrative leadership.

Last Updated: 2007-10-11
Author: Erin Mussolum