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In this week's College Connection, FOX 21's Dan Hanger takes you to the University of Minnesota Duluth where a one-of-a-kind study is taking place involving North America's only aquatic grain.
UMD biology students like Josh Ditsworth are performing a variety of unique experiments on what controls the growth of wild rice in our region.
"I just put these strings up here earlier this week. Kind of a support system for the rice," Ditsworth said.
His professor, John Pastor, said a main focus is sulfate, from mines for example, and just how much is too much in a wild rice plant's ecosystem.
"There's some possibility that additional sulfates might get into rivers in wild rice lakes because of the expansion of the mining, particularly into the copper deposits," Pastor said.
Pastor's students have been patiently working on this project for two years now testing, sampling and drawing no conclusions just yet because it's simply too soon in the experiment.
"How it gets in the sentiment, how it's transformed in the sentiments bit, the microbes and what that does to the wild rice growth," Pastor explained.
Pastor says this type of hard evidence, in the end, will not only help the mines and the Pollution Control Agency regulate policy, but also help preserve a piece of culture in the Native American community.
"It's how they see themselves as a people. It's almost considered sacred food to many of these people. Wild rice is one of the species up here in the Northwoods that kind of defines that this is where we live," Pastor said.
It's an extensive experiment about the future of a sacred native crop that's giving UMD biology students a solid environmental education at the same time."It's kind of a good feeling too. It's kind of cool. And I'm really excited to see where this develops and how it turns out," Ditsworth said.