Breaks Away: Tom Bultman

sabbatical (n): a break from customary work to acquire new skills or knowledge, traditionally occurring every seventh year

Breaks Away: Sabbatical Stories of Hope
Each academic year, a number of Hope faculty take sabbatical leaves away from the college, submersing themselves for extended periods of time into their favored fields of inquiry. If viewed from above and all together, those fields would look like a calico landscape, so varied and colorful is the topography of their collective research, writing, and creative pursuits. Offering restoration and adventure both, sabbaticals are a bit like information and imagination transfusions. These breaks away from normal classroom and committee work give Hope academicians a boost to reinforce and revitalize their teaching and scholarship.

Sheep in New Zealand have a friend in Dr. Tom Bultman. And Dr. Bultman, professor of biology, was happy to oblige the massive, wooly industry that is valuable in a country where sheep outnumber humans by about 10-to-1.

TomBultman
Dr. Tom Bultman, professor of biology at Hope College

Funded by a National Science Foundation grant and headquartered at AgResearch just outside of Christchurch, Dr. Bultman spent three months in the spring of 2015 investigating the growth and effects of endophytic fungus inside perennial ryegrass, the mainly foraged food source found in New Zealand paddocks. His research findings may eventually ensure that New Zealand’s ovine population (and America’s too) can eat their meals toxin-free.

“Endophytic fungus can produce chemicals in the grasses that can be toxic,” explains Dr. Bultman, who collaborated with six other New Zealand scientists, as well as Hope graduate Kelly Krueger ’14, on the project. “So it makes sense that ridding the grasses of those fungi and possible toxins is important to farmers in New Zealand and the U.S. because the effects of the fungi are pronounced in these two part of the world.”

Dr. Bultman and associates also looked at the alkaloid levels — the presences of nitrogenous compounds — in damaged grass and the insect impact on that grass as well. In other words, when ryegrass is walked on by sheep hooves or torn by the sheep’s teeth, what alkaloid, if any, would be produced and how would insects respond to it?

“We found that one variety of fungus actually produced reduced alkaloids in damaged grass, probably due to the sheep’s saliva,” Dr. Bultman says.

So in layman’s terms, sheep spit is actually a good thing.

“I’m a pretty simple guy, I admit,” he replies when asked what he appreciated most about his break away, “so sabbaticals are the chance to simplify, to focus on one thing for a big block of time. This research is new and novel, and I can’t wait to write it up.”

With most of his findings in hand, Dr. Bultman will now begin to author his work for publication in scholarly journals such as PLOS Biology. In fact, he’s anxious to do so.

“I’m a pretty simple guy, I admit,” he replies when asked what he appreciated most about his break away, “so sabbaticals are the chance to simplify, to focus on one thing for a big block of time. This research is new and novel, and I can’t wait to write it up.”

Dr. Tom Bultman is a professor in the Biology Department at Hope College.

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