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Research Roundup: Chemical vaccine for plants, carbon-capture technology, dropout rates

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Each week, The Daily’s Science & Technology section produces a roundup of the most exciting and influential research happening on campus or otherwise related to Stanford. Here’s our digest for the week of Oct. 20 – Oct. 26.

Chemical vaccine protects plants from invading pathogens

Stanford researchers developed a chemical vaccine to boost a plant’s existing defensive system against pathogens. The vaccine can prevent localized plant diseases from becoming contagious, a study published on Oct. 22 in “Science Signaling” found.

The team, led by biology professor Mary Beth Mudgett and associate chemical engineering professor Elizabeth Sattely, found that tomato and pepper plants were protected from a disease known as bacterial speck if the leaves were treated with the chemical vaccine.

They used a naturally occurring chemical called N-hydroxy-pipecolic acid (NHP) to treat the uninfected leaves of plants. Leaves exposed to NHP had a cascade of chemical responses that made it harder for pathogens to infect the plant.

“It was only last year that our team and another group discovered how NHP flipped on this defensive system in plants in the lab,” Mudgett told Stanford News. “This time we made NHP and showed that we could use it as an inoculant to switch on this defense mechanism in crop plants, as well.”

Carbon-capture technology may not be best option for climate change

One method to combat climate change is to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere by removing carbon directly from the atmosphere. But a study by civil and environmental engineering professor Mark Z. Jacobson published on Oct. 21 in “Energy and Environmental Science,” suggests that these carbon-capture technologies may do more harm than good.

“All sorts of scenarios have been developed under the assumption that carbon-capture actually reduces substantial amounts of carbon,” Jacobson told Stanford News. “However, this research finds that it reduces only a small fraction of carbon emissions, and it usually increases air pollution.”

Jacobson’s research also examined the potential social cost of carbon-capture, including air pollution and possible health problems. He determined that the social costs associated with carbon-capture are similar to or higher than those associated with operating a fossil fuel plant without carbon-capture technologies.

Jacobson concluded that the best solution to reduce carbon levels would be to focus more on renewable energy resources, such as wind and solar, to decrease or replace the use of fossil fuels.

Curriculum leads to lower school dropout rates

Students who have access to achievement programs, especially black male participants, are less likely to drop out of school, a study published on Oct. 21 in the National Bureau of Economic Research found.

The course, called Manhood Development, focuses on social-emotional learning, African and African-American history and mentoring in an effort to create a sense of community and belonging at school. The course started in Oakland nearly a decade ago where black male instructors teach the course.

“Many historically marginalized students experience schools as highly alienating spaces,” Thomas S. Dee, an education professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, told Stanford News. “The targeted design of this program, and the evidence of its impact, challenges us to radically reconsider how we think about promoting equity in education.”

The course is a part of the African American Male Achievement program, and since its initial launch has expanded to include all nine high schools within the Oakland Unified School District.

Contact Derek Chen at derekc8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.