February 2024
Printing Plant-Based Meds

Many of the medicinal pharmaceuticals and cosmetics sold in the U.S. rely on imported raw plant materials from all over the world. The threat to medically important plants is steadily increasing due to climate change and invasive species/disease. Farmers and nurseries often struggle to meet the growing demand. A group of student researchers teamed up to find a solution to this problem.

The team developed a 3D-printing system for optimizing production and replication of plant-derived chemicals used in drugs, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. The 3D bioprinter is used to print hydrogels, or jelly-like substances made of water and polymers that can hold and release biological molecules. The bioprinter prints genetically engineered bacteria and genetically engineered yeast into adjacent hydrogels, that are then simultaneously submerged into a liquid nutrient broth. Molecules are exchanged between the yeast and bacteria, through the hydrogel, while the individual microbes remain separated and grow undisturbed. This method results in the creation of synthetic plant-based chemicals. This method could provide the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry with a plant-free production alternative, which could reduce stress on medically important plants. Especially those endangered by climate change and invasive species.

Read the Article: Printing Plant-Based Pharmaceuticals - Without Plants
● Link includes a video interview of the team.



 Bioprinter3D bioprinter used to print custom hydrogels which result in the creation of synthetic plant-based chemicals . Credit: iGEM biomanufacturing a sustainable future. University of Rochester.

printing-plant-basedExample of bioprinted bacteria created by Rochester undergraduates containing green fluorescent proteins that glow under ultraviolet light. Credit: University of Rochester photo, J. Adam Fenster


Invasive Weed or Economic Crop

Prickly paddy melon weed (Cucumis myriocarpus) is an invasive climbing herb commonly found in Australia that has become highly damaging to the economically important crops and farmland. These weeds are known to cause loss in grain yields, cattle deaths, and control measures that cost the agricultural industry $100 million annually.

Despite the weed's evident shortcomings, a recent study has found that prickly paddy melon has the potential to be grown as a bulk source of urease enzyme (a cytosolic enzyme catalyzing the hydrolysis of urea to ammonia and carbon dioxide). This enzyme can be used to create bio-cement and prevent soil erosion, turning the invasive nuisance into an economically valuable crop.

Plant-based urease enzymes are a popular alternative to cement, lime, or artificial soil binders. Paddy melon enzymes were found to be cheaper, more sustainable, and more efficient than the alternative options at stabilizing soil. A recent study also found that using prickly paddy melon resulted in up to 75% savings compared to lab-grade enzyme production costs.

These melons are also a great choice for agricultural production because one vine can produce up to 50 melons, with each containing up to 200 seeds. The seeds are removed from each melon and crushed so the enzymes can be extracted in a liquid form. They are then freeze-dried to create a powdered, high-concentration cementation agent.” Lab grade cementation production can take up to a week, while this technique only takes 6 hours. Cementation agents can be beneficial for the construction, mining and forestry industries.

Read the research: Tran et al., 2023

Prickly paddy melon weed (Cucumis myriocarpus) sliced open exposing the inner seeds. Credit: Weeds of Melbourne

harvesting melon
Prof Rahman and Dr Karim collecting paddy melons for urease enzyme extraction. Credit: University of South Australiaharvesting melons

Rodents of Unusual Size and Unusual Resilience

Nutria (Myocastor coypus) are an invasive semi-aquatic rodent that was originally brought to the U.S. by fur traders in the late nineteenth century. In the 40s, state and federal agencies relocated nutria to the southern and south-eastern states with the intention that they would help control undesirable vegetation. Since then, they have spread and bred and spread some more. At one time, Nutria were reported in at least 40 states and 3 Canadian provinces, but now it is closer to 20 (including Texas). Although some states, or scattered counties, have been able to successfully eradicate the large rodents, it is not unusual for such victories to be short-lived. For example, California declared the state nutria-free in the mid 1960s. In 2017, twenty adults were found breeding and spreading throughout the San Joaquin Valley. It is unknown as to how they reappeared. Why are these wanna-be beavers so hard to keep track of and control?

When they reach reproductive maturity at six months, they reproduce at an astonishing rate. These large rodents breed year-round and sexually active individuals are present every month of the year. A female has an average litter size of 4-5 young, with a maximum of 13. Once a female reaches sexual maturity, she can have up to 200 offspring throughout her lifetime, which can disperse as far as 50 miles. Nutria can grow up to 2.5 feet, not counting a foot-long tail. An adult can weigh up to 20 pounds and has a set of large, yellow-orange incisors, like a beaver. Nutria can adapt to a wide variety of environments. Since they are semi-aquatic, they will often seek out an environmental boundary between land and permanent freshwater water source with an abundance of aquatic vegetation. However, these opportunistic rodents have been found in drainage canals, bayous, swamps, ponds found in parks, and man-made riverways. Nutria can destroy wetlands and flood control systems, cause severe soil erosion, and damage levees. They degrade water quality and can contaminate drinking supplies with parasites and diseases that are transmissible to humans, livestock, and pets. They also damage rice and sugarcane crops, which causes millions of dollars in losses annually. When they eat vegetation, they eat the whole plant- leaves, stem, root, and all. This can lead to the elimination of various plants from an area.

Researchers have tried a few different methods of mitigation but so far nothing has been truly successful. The most common form of control now is manual collection and human euthanasia. For now, that will have to do.


Royal Tyler. Pro Pest and Lawn Store. Bugwood.org
Nutria (Myocastor coypus). Credit: Royal Tyler, Pro Pest and Lawn Store, Bugwood.org

usgs map nutris copy
Distribution of nutria throughout the United States. Credit: USGS.gov

Don’t Mess With Texas Citrus

TISI is offering FREE diagnostic services if you suspect your citrus has either the psyllid pest or the Citrus Greening pathogen, or you would like your citrus plants to be part of our screening survey.

The Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri) and the Citrus Greening pathogen (Candidatus liberibacter asiaticus) are threatening citrus in multiple Texas counties. By taking samples and monitoring the spread, it is easier to ensure that you and your neighbors are not affected. This pest and pathogen are extremely detrimental to Texas citrus, both economically and agriculturally. The presence of either can greatly affect citrus yield.

If you are interested in having your citrus trees checked or being part of the survey, please contact invasives@shsu.edu. If you are located within 200 miles of our headquarters, we can collect samples and/or provide traps and monitoring services. Otherwise, we will send you easy step-by-step instructions so you can do it yourself. Not only will we share the results and management strategies (where applicable), but you will become part of a multi-county monitoring survey that is striving to improve the health of Texas citrus!

Also Available: TISI offers educational workshops that highlight information about the Asian citrus psyllid, the pathogen Citrus Greening, and what you need to look out for in your own backyard. If you are interested in this, TISI will provide trapping materials, assist with management strategies, and more. Don’t waste another second.
Help us stop the spread!

symptoms of citrus greening. Jeffrey W. Lotz. Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Bugwood.org
Symptoms of citrus greening bacterium. Credit: Jeffrey W. Lotz, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, bugwood.org

citrus greening
Leaf mottle on grapefruit, a characteristic symptom caused by citrus greening bacterium but also seen on trees infected by Spiroplasma citri. Credit: J.M. Bove.

North American Invasive Species Management Association Training Webinars

This program is designed to provide the education needed for professionals and students who are managing or learning to manage invasive species. The courses include the most current invasive species identification, control, and management techniques, and how to comply with local and federal regulations.

Participants may register and enroll at any time, and will receive a certificate of invasive species management from NAISMA upon completion of the program.

All live webinars are open to the public. Recorded webinars are available to members of NAISMA.

NAISMA 2024 Webinar Schedule:

  • March 1, 1pm CST- Protecting North American Biodiversity from Invasive Species. REGISTER.
  • March 20, 1pm CST- Collaboration and Innovation: Working at Multiple Scales at the Department of the Interior to Manage Invasive Species. REGISTER.
  • April 17, 1pm CST- Field mapping protocols- What to consider when mapping for invasive plant species. REGISTER.
  • May 15, 1pm CST- Invasive Lionfish. REGISTER.



Texas City Water System Clogged by Zebra Mussels

The City of Midland in Texas City is taking action after zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha ) disrupted the local water supply. The invasive mussels were found clinging to the inside of pipelines and underside of the pump mechanisms, obstructing the water flow from the local water supply and hindering system efficiency. The presence of mussels lowers the amount of water that can run through the system. Now that officials are aware of the problem, they plan to use three different chemicals to help treat the water.

TPWD emphasized how important it is for boaters, marina operators and others to Clean, Drain and Dry all boats and water craft equipment before moving them, and to remain vigilant to stop the spread of aquatic hitchhikers. If you believe you have seen a zebra or quagga mussels, please take a picture and REPORT IT! here.

mussel signal flt
Credit: KNKleiner. TRIES

Invasive Spotlight:

(Elymus repens)

Quackgrass (Elymus repens) is a perennial grass that grows in clumps of horizontal stems (rhizomes) that can reach up to 4 feet tall. Stems are round with flat leaves that range in size, from 1.5-12 inches long and 0.8-5.5 in wide. The top of the leaves can be waxy or hairy, while the underside of leaves are hairy. Seeds are formed in flattened flower spikes. A flower spike typically has 1-2 spikelets and 3-8 florets. This grass emerges in the spring, flowers in the early summer and sets seed in late summer.

Quackgrass reproduces by seeds and underground rhizomes. Seeds can be produced more than once a season and lay dormant for up to 4 years. However, quickgrass will not germinate where it is already established. Rhizomes grow during the spring and fall. One plant can have up to 1,200 dormant lateral buds on its rhizomes, all of which can fragment and create a new plant. The compound rhizomes enable this invasive grass to grow and spread rapidly across grasslands at a rate of 10 feet/year. Quackgrass also produces allelopathic toxins which allow the grass to outcompete native vegetation, reduce crop yield, and contaminate seed grain crop.

This invasive grass can be confused with some other field grasses and weeds, such as: tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea), Annual Ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum), and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne). However, none of these grass weeds have rhizomes like quickgrass. Immediately distinguish quickgrass from other field grasses and weeds by looking at the auricles. It is morphologically unique compared to all others.

Quickgrass is listed in forty-one states as a poisonous/noxious weed because of the harmful effects it has on agricultural crops. This invasive grass has been reported in Texas. Find more information about quackgrass at the Texas Invasives Species Institute information page. If you believe you have seen quackgrass or any other invasive species, please take one or more pictures and REPORT IT HERE! We will review your report and get back to you as swiftly as possible. Citizen Scientists are often our first line of defense. We appreciate your diligence and dedication.

Steve Dewey. Utah State University. Bugwood.org 
Quackgrass (Elymus repens). Credit: Steve Dewey, Utah State University, Bugwood.org
quackgrass roots. Steve Dewey. Utah State University. Bugwood.org
Example of quackgrass roots bearing rhizomes. Credit: Steve Dewey, Utah State University, Bugwood.org

quackgrass auricles. Steve Dewey. Utah State University. Bugwood.org
Quackgrass auricles. Credit: Steve Dewey, Utah State University, Bugwood.org

Get Involved Today!!

The Texas Invasive Species Institute (TISI) and The Texas Research Institute for Environmental Studies (TRIES) have many surveys and projects underway. These facilities strive to provide yearly invasive species presence and absence data to the authorities. Pre-screening is one of the first lines of defense in the war against invasives. However, sometimes it is hard to do it alone.

With the aid of the public and citizen scientists, we could cover a much wider area, and gather a more substantial amount of data. When it comes to protecting our environment, there is an opportunity for everyone! Together we can make a difference, one research project at a time.

See how you can get involved by reading the projects listed below or see all the available projects on the Texas Invasives website HERE.


Air Potato Survey

Help Texas Research Institute for Environmental Studies conduct an air potato survey by actively reporting any infestations seen in your area. The air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera) is a fast growing, high climbing vine. Potato-like tubers are the primary means of reproduction for this vine. They can be as small as a marble or as large as a softball. Native yams are often confused for air potatoes. To avoid this confusion, please refer to the key below:

- Plants rhizomatous; bulbils never produced in leaf axils; petiole base never clasping the stem; Native D. villosa
- Plants tuberous; bulbils produced in leaf axils; petiole base sometimes clasping the stem; Invasive D. bulbifera

For additional information, please refer to the TexasInvasives information page.

If you believe you have identified an air potato vine, please email invasives@shsu.edu and include the following information: an image, an approximate number of vines present, the location (including whether it is on public or private land), and if bulbils are present (the potato-like tubers that emerge from the stem).

Participation opportunities

Participation Opportunities. Credit: KNKleiner, TRIES.


air-potato (Dioscorea bulbifera)2 bulbil. credit Karen Brown

Air-potato (Dioscorea bulbifera), bulbil emerging from leaf axil. Credit: Karen Brown.  


Video Invasion

Monthly video picks about invasive species or the people that want to tell us more about them. There are some amazing citizens and professionals around the world that poke, prod, chase, dive, and investigate everything they can about these alien invaders. Jump into this cinematic rabbit hole. You never know what you may learn.

Argentine Ants. The Global Super Colony.

This ant documentary takes a look into the lives of highly destructive Argentine Ants (Linepithema humile). Learn what makes these ants different that other invasive ants, why ants in general are important to the environment, and peek inside the nest.

Learning About the Air Potato Vine on Life Science at A Social Distance. Pinellas County School WPDS TV14.

Learn about the invasive air potato vine (Dioscorea bulbifera). Learn how it spreads throughout Central Florida, the damage it poses to native vegetation, and how the University of Florida is working to eradicate this invasive species. Air potatoes are present in Texas.

Big-As-Your-Arm Invasive Crawfish Found in Texas, Do We Fear Them or Eat Them? Knue.Com

The Australian Redclaw Crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus) is a 9in long invasive crawfish that has been reported in multiple lakes in Texas. Not only does this video show you how to identify these big guys, but you can see how they are caught and cooked up.

More News

Maine Dogs Train to Detect Invasive Species
Five dogs are taking part in a nationwide study organized by Texas Tech and Virginia Tech to detect invasive species and combat the spread. newscentermaine.com

New Study Suggests Culling Animals Who 'Don't Belong' Can Be a Flawed Nature Conservation Practice
A recent study concluded that eradicating animals on the basis of their non-native status to protect plant species may be a flawed practice, costing millions of dollars, and resulting in the unnecessary slaughter of millions of healthy wild animals. phys.org

Study Suggests Invasive Spider Tolerates Urban Landscape Better Than Most Native Spiders
The joro spider (Trichonephila clavata) seem unbothered by stressful, noisy urban areas such as busy roadsides, traffic lights, and power lines. This allows them to capitalize on unclaimed niche spaces with top rate hunting grounds. cnn.com

Alien Invasion: Non-Native Earthworms Threaten Ecosystems
Imported earthworm species have colonized large parts of North America and represent a largely portion of the overlooked threat to native ecosystems. The need to better understand and manage invasive species is an ongoing struggle. sciencedaily.com

Invasive Rodent Research May Help Protect Hawaiian Forests
Using DNA metabarcoding, the fecal dropping from invasive rats and mice in Hawaiian forests were examined to determine diet composition. This revealed much about predator-prey relationships and the impacts invasive rodents have on the island. phys.org

Invasive Dupes, Part 1: Teasel Vs. Thistle, Will the Real Native Please Stand Up
There are many types of invasive thistle and invasive look-alikes. However, pasture/field thistle (Cirsium discolor) is an important native that can signal a healthy, high-quality prairie. news.wttw.com

Unlocking The Heat in Mosquito Modeling: Exploring Disease Transmission Under Climate Change
There are many human and environmental factors that alter the distribution of mosquitos around the planet. Each alteration is followed by a shift in the distribution of vector disease. A recent study examined how temperature fluctuations brought on by climate change will change mosquito-borne diseases. phys.org

Converting Rainforest to Plantation Impacts Food Webs and Biodiversity
Tropical biodiversity and ecosystem functionality is directly affected by the conversion of areas of the rainforests into plantations. The degree of these consequences is not clearly understood. Researchers closely analyzed tropical rainforest organisms in order to find some answers. sciencedaily.com

Team Creates First Database of Field Studies on The Impacts Of Invasive Plants In Europe
Experts have created the first database of field studies on the impacts of invasive plants on native species completed across 29 European communities and ecosystems. phys.org

Tiny Ant Species Disrupts Lion's Hunting Behavior
Data gathered through years of observation reveal that the "big-headed" ant (Pheidole megacephala) is disrupting an ecosystem in East Africa, illustrating that even small organisms can create a complex web of chaos among ants, trees, lions, zebras and buffaloes. news.ufl.edu

Sentinel Pest Network and Invaders of Texas Workshops

Invaders of Texas workshops train volunteers to detect and report invasive species as citizen scientists. Workshops, which are free, are designed to introduce participants to invasive species and the problems they cause, cover aspects of invasive species management, teach identification of local invasive plants, and train participants to report invasive plants using the TX Invaders mobile application. The workshop is 7 hours long (usually on a Saturday, but scheduling is arranged with each individual host group). The workshop satisfies Master Naturalist training requirements.

Sentinel Pest Network workshops serve to increase the awareness and early detection of a set of particularly important invasive species to help prevent their spread into Texas or their further spread within Texas. Participants learn to identify species such as the Emerald Ash Borer, Cactus Moth, Asian Longhorned Beetle, and other pests of regulatory significance, and to report them. The workshop is 3.5 hours long. The workshop satisfies Master Naturalist training requirements.

Upcoming Workshops:


CITRUS WORKSHOPS: Stay tuned for upcoming 2023 virtual weekend presentations about Citrus diseases and FREE testing we offer at Texas Invasive Species Institute.