BCB faculty receive PSI Faculty Scholar awards

May 23, 2015

Iowa State University's Plant Sciences Institute (PSI) has awarded funding to investigators in three colleges in an effort to stimulate high-risk, high-reward research in the plant sciences.

The awards are part of the Plant Sciences Institute's Faculty Scholars program. The new initiative was spearheaded by PSI director Patrick Schnable and takes a different approach than a traditional internal seed grant program. Instead of funding specific research projects, the program will invest $2 million annually to provide investigators with flexible funding they may use in a variety of ways -- salaries, acquisition of equipment, seminar support, consulting fees and other related expenses -- to engage in innovative and high-risk research that may lead to important breakthroughs in PSI's focus area of predictive phenomics.

Predictive phenomics is a complex and rapidly emerging discipline in which scientists attempt to understand in detail the effects of plant genotype (genetic makeup) and environment, and the interaction between the two, on plant phenotype (traits). That understanding will lead to the development of better predictive models for plant breeding.

Schnable said, "I'm very pleased with the caliber of talent and diversity of disciplines represented by this inaugural group of PSI Scholars. By investing in people instead of specific projects, I'm confident that this program will enable the Scholars to make real progress in deepening our understanding of predictive phenomics through new biological insights, new computational methods to analyze phenomics-related data sets, and new measurement tools, such as small field-based sensors. These findings will lead to the development of new crop breeding techniques for improved yield and enhanced yield stability under a variety of challenging and changing environmental conditions."

In addition to receiving funding for up to three years, Scholars will participate in an ongoing weekly workshop series designed to help establish strong collaborations among plant scientists, engineers and computational scientists. It is anticipated that this interdisciplinary approach to problem solving will spur development of novel approaches and technologies and prepare teams of investigators to submit successful proposals for additional large-scale external funding.

"I'm encouraged by the fact that half of the PSI Scholars are plant biologists and half are engineers and computational scientists," said Schnable. "Working in collaboration, these researchers from diverse disciplines have the potential to significantly advance the field of predictive phenomics."

7 of the 16 PSI Faculty Scholars are BCB faculty members:

Madan K. Bhattacharyya, agronomy
Ludovico Cademartiri, materials science and engineering
Hui-Hsien Chou, genetics, development and cell biology
Carolyn J. Lawrence, genetics, development and cell biology
W. Allen Miller, plant pathology and microbiology
Dan Nettleton, statistics
Steven A. Whitham, plant pathology and microbiology

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