CAES Undergraduate Student, John Bagwell, proudly talks about his research project: Quantifying a Correlation between Maize Leaf Color and Nitrogen Stress

By Hugo Alexander Morán Chávez

As the demand for agriculture graduates expands, undergraduate research becomes increasingly important and in colleges of agriculture. Undergraduate research at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has become an important pillar to foster student success. Not only does it helps a student enter the world of experiential learning, but it also provides students with necessary skills that job seekers desire when hiring newly college graduates.

John Bagwell, an Agriscience and Environmental Systems major, has been working on a research project to quantify a correlation between maize leaf color and nitrogen stress using an ordinary camera. Every day, John goes to class, and then during breaks, he drives to the Crop and Soil Sciences Greenhouses to check on his maize plants. He takes notes for his lab, provides his plants with water and nutrients, takes pictures, and collects data.

His interest in corn breeding goes beyond the University of Georgia, though Mr. Bagwell grew up on a corn farm and, working alongside his father in the corn fields, he sought to one day improve corn not only for Georgians but for the rest of the world, as well. At the same time, he also expressed that while seeking his path at the University of Georgia, his professors helped him decide his career, “I got a job at the Center for Applied Genetic Technologies. I learned that there were plenty of professors and people known as plant breeders who improved crops for a living. After talking with them, I decided I wanted to be a plant breeder.”

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John Bagwell, holding two corn plants and showing the differences in leaf color and nitrogen.

When describing his research, he states, “{My} research is about quantifying a correlation between nitrogen stress and maize leaf color with the purpose of making the corn less dependent on nitrogen fertilizer. I want to be able to replace a portion of the fertilizer with bacteria.” This project is not only about finding out if there is a correlation but to also produce a symbiotic relationship between bacteria and the corn in the future says Mr. Bagwell, “The ultimate goal of this research project is to have microorganisms work with the corn to then have these plants produce their own nitrogen.”

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One of the populations of corn that Mr. Bagwell visits every day after class to take agronomic notes.

This project is complex, not only because the results can benefit the world of agriculture by providing farmers with an alternative to fertilizer, but because Mr. Bagwell worked hard to find enough funding from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. He explained, “The College of Ag gave me $500 that helped me buy the tools and materials needed to complete the experiment.” He also mentioned how thankful he is for his college for not only giving him the money but also for giving him the opportunity to learn through experiential learning.

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Mr. Bagwell is posing with one of his bigger corn plants at one of the Crop and Soil Sciences Greenhouses.

When discussing his future goals with this project and his career, Mr. Bagwell mentioned that he would like to help his professor with any further stages the experiment may have. He is also planning on pursuing his graduate degree in Plant Breeding and Genetics.

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Mr. Bagwell is posing with one of his newest populations of corn plants at one of the Crop and Soil Sciences Greenhouses.
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