PSLA Research Areas
In light of a changing climate, rapid conversion of land for human uses, and the need to produce enough food to feed the growing human population, scientists face the daunting task of balancing multiple environmental, economic, and social objectives. Scientists in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture are conducting research to support the development of novel strategies that improve the sustainability of natural, urban, and agricultural systems, protect and restore critical ecosystem functions, conserve and recover endangered species, promote sustainable landscape design and land use planning, integrate plant and soil health management, and maintain plant productivity in the face of global environmental change.
The science of plant pathology and food security encompasses many aspects of agriculture that includes plant production and management as well as food handling and preparation. Efforts within our department combine cutting edge foundational and translational research methods to ensure nutritious and safe food in addition to recreational areas comprised of forests, turfgrasses and ornamentals. Exciting research opportunities allow exploration in host immunity and pathogen biology, integrated pest management strategies, and ecological research in plant and microbial diversity. Continued advancement in plant science and the study of plant-microbe interactions will secure crop diversity and productivity for future generations, maintain microbial diversity in agriculture for enhanced sustainability and help us devise strategies to produce and maintain crops in response to environmental, economic and social challenges.
There is great interest in improving human health by including more fresh fruits and vegetables into the human diet. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of foodborne illness outbreaks attributed to consuming fresh commodities like tomatoes, cantaloupes and leafy greens. To solve this problem, our graduate students conduct field and laboratory based studies to provide the scientific data needed to develop food safety metrics, and determine the best conventional and organic production methods that ensure the safety and quality of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Our students’ research approaches combine tools of microbiology, molecular biology, plant physiology and bioinformatics to test their hypotheses. Controlled studies focus on Salmonella, Listeria and human pathogenic strains of E. coli. Our students also ask questions about the role of the naturally-occurring microorganisms in the phyllosphere and rhizosphere, and the role played by the microbiome in the suppression of human pathogens. They are also curious to know more about plant-microbe interactions, and what bacterial adaptations allow human pathogens to live in association with food crops. How can human pathogens hitchhike and survive on a plant leaf or fruit, a dramatically different environment than their animal hosts provide? These are all exciting topics. Answers to these questions will lead to improvements in agricultural production methods, as well as to human health.
As the climate is changing, so are the habitat ranges for all plant species. For a given species, the habitat may become more restrictive, so the species is limited to a smaller range, and this loss of habitat is of concern for endangered and threatened species. For another species, the habitat may become more permissive so that the species has a larger range, and this may allow other species to become invasive and weeds to become more successful. The invasive and weed science researchers are addressing these questions to find sustainable solutions that allow native species in natural, built and restored ecosystems and agronomic crops in agricultural ecosystems to thrive, to the detriment of weed species. In order to achieve such outcomes, researchers employ methods and technologies at the molecular level (studying the interaction of herbicides with plant cell molecules), the cellular and physiological level, as well as the whole plant and field level.
Plants are central to addressing the sustainability of life on this planet. Researchers study the underlying mechanisms of plant physiology, growth, development and responses to biotic and abiotic stresses. This research integrates an array of cutting edge approaches in molecular genetics, bioinformatics, proteomics, transcriptomics, metabolomics, imaging, biochemistry and electrophysiology in model and non-model systems. The findings allow for novel solutions to the global problems of climate change, water shortage, salt intrusion, as well as the growing demands for food, fuel and fiber for the expanding human population.
Complementing and strengthening the accredited professional Landscape Architecture programs, faculty and students are engaged in exploring strategies to increase the capacity of landscape architects, designers, and partners to solve environmental issues: urbanization, climate change, stormwater pollution, placelessness and others critical and emerging topics. Evidenced based design and planning research grounded upon an ecological design process supports a systems approach to integrating abiotic, biotic and cultural factors in the built and non-built environment in artful place-based design and planning processes.