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World-Renowned Scientists to Study Plant Resilience in New MSU Research Institute

The founding members of the MSU Plant Resilience Institute.

Current estimates indicate that agricultural production must nearly double by 2050 to feed the world’s growing population. Add the impacts of climate change and the scarcity of land and water, and you have one of the greatest challenges facing the world community today.

Scientists at the new Plant Resilience Institute at Michigan State University will work together to meet this challenge head on. Recently approved by the MSU Board of Trustees, the Institute will conduct fundamental research to identify mechanisms that contribute to plant resilience and impact plant productivity. Research will include understanding how plants cope with environmental conditions associated with climate change.

“Michigan State is a national and international leader in fundamental plant sciences and the application of cutting-edge science to address critical human and environmental needs,” said R. James Kirkpatrick, College of Natural Science dean. “This Institute will build on that strength and allow the university to maintain its leadership position in these critical areas.”

Founding MSU scientists are:

  • Director Michael Thomashow, University Distinguished Professor, Departments of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences; and Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
  • Associate Director Gregg Howe, MSU Foundation Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • Robin Buell, MSU Foundation Professor, Department of Plant Biology
  • Brad Day, Associate Professor, Chair of Research in Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences
  • Sheng Yang He, Howard Hughes Medical Investigator, Departments of Plant Biology; Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences; and Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
  • David Lowry, Assistant Professor, Department of Plant Biology
  • Ashley Shade, Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
  • Thomas Sharkey, University Distinguished Professor, Chairman of Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Professor Gregg Howe

Gregg Howe studies plants defenses in response to insects and other environmental stresses.

Several additional faculty members will be hired over the next two years.

The Institute will maintain a global perspective needed to translate discoveries made in the lab to the field, and transfer knowledge to the international community through education, research training, and outreach.

“To meet the challenge of feeding the global community of tomorrow, plants of the future must have greater resilience towards abiotic stresses, such as drought and high temperature, and biotic stresses including attack by microbial pathogens and insect pests,” said Thomashow. “And, this must be accomplished in a sustainable fashion that doesn’t harm the environment. MSU is ready to move forward to meet these challenges.”

With funding from MSU AgBioResearch, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the College of Natural Sciences, and the MSU Global Impact Initiative, MSU is committed to establishing a research environment that brings together plant science and agricultural communities to tackle problems of a global scale. MSU is uniquely positioned to meet these challenges, having one of the world’s largest concentrations of plant science and agricultural research faculty. Additional expertise in food safety and production round out the disciplines needed to meet the next grand challenges in agriculture.

Associate Professor Brad Day observed that, “We do not have to travel far to find an expert in a given area of plant science. That faculty expertise is complemented by excellent infrastructure.”

From world-class growth chambers that enable scientists to simulate environmental conditions associated with climate change, to state-of-the-art genomics instrumentation, the investment in infrastructure has created a plant science research community at MSU that is among the best in the world.

Robin Buell studies the genomics of crops.

Robin Buell studies the genomics of crops.

Other MSU resources that will play a major role in the research conducted by Institute faculty include the 13 MSU AgBioResearch centers across the state, the Kellogg Biological Station, and most importantly, the University’s global network, including ongoing research partnerships in Africa and Asia.

“We believe this new center of excellence and its pioneering research faculty will attract the best talent and become the global hub for plant resilience research,” said Douglas Buhler, director of MSU AgBioResearch. “Not only will the team collaborate with other faculty across campus, but they will continue working with our international partners to develop sustainable solutions for different areas of the world.”

The Institute is set to open this fall.

Learn more about Michael Thomashow’s research by viewing this presentation.


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