Measuring and Translating Success

Dr. Wusheng Liu, CALS Translational Genomics and Plant Bioengineering professor

Dr. Wusheng Liu, pictured in a Kannapolis greenhouse, evaluates a variety of tomato breeding lines for high lycopene content as part of a collaborative research project with Penny Perkins-Veazie and Dilip Panthee. Photo by James Duduit, Master of Science student in the Department of Horticultural Science.

Dr. Wusheng Liu joined the Department of Horticultural Science as an assistant professor in January 2018, just one year ago. Before Wusheng arrived you could hear conversations in Kilgore Hall of the new Translational Genomics and Plant Bioengineering professor and ambitious entourage of plant researchers.

What is translational genomics in plant breeding?

Translational genomics is a unique interdisciplinary field of research that leverages genetics and information technologies to enable advancement and knowledge in both basic and applied plant sciences. To achieve a successful application, there are many factors to consider from a model crop; these factors include genetic makeup, complexity of the favored traits, stress tolerance and resistance and evaluated potential for crop improvement.

Give me some background on your areas of expertise.

I received my Ph.D. degree from University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) in 2007 and worked as a postdoc and then research assistant professor there. I joined the Department of Horticultural Science as an assistant professor in translational genomics and plant bioengineering in January 2018. My expertise is plant biotechnology, plant synthetic biology, and genome editing.

Why did you come to work at NC State?

NC State is a well-known university worldwide. It has a long history of performing great research and education in both basic and applied science. My position here gives me an opportunity to bridge basic and applied research.

What are you doing now in research and teaching?

My current research focuses on the characterization of a novel function of an Arabidopsis Myb gene controlling seed size, and genetic engineering and genome editing of floral patterns in camelina, seed size of Arabidopsis, camelina and soybean, bacterial wilt resistance in tomato, and tomato fruit lycopene content. I am also developing a biotechnology course for crop improvement that will be offered to both undergraduates and graduates in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

How does your work transform challenges into opportunities?

There is a big gap between basic and applied research. We look for novel ideas and experimental designs to do both and want to bridge the two fields. Dr. Debao Huang, a postdoc in my lab, is working on a novel function of an Arabidopsis Myb gene and found its overexpression increased seed size in transgenic Arabidopsis and soybean. Dr. Paul Kosentka, another postdoc in my lab, is working on tomato lycopene biosynthesis pathway genes in a hope to use gene editing to increase tomato fruit lycopene content.

genomics graduate researchers
Back row from left: Wusheng Liu (assistant professor), Debao Huang (postdoc), Liwei Gao (visiting Ph.D. student), James Duduit (M.S. student), Yonghui Wu (temporary technician) and Xianlian Chen (visiting Ph.D, student). Front row from left: David Denton (M.S. student) and Paul Kosentka (postdoc).

What stands out about CALS students?
The students in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are all smart, hard-working and highly self-motivated such as David Denton, James Duduit, Liwei Gao and Xianlian Chen. David filed two disclosures for impatiens he bred during his undergraduate time and now is working on genetic engineering and genome editing for enhanced bacterial wilt resistance in tomato. James, who is working on a tomato lycopene project, loves to learn genetics, genomics and plant biotechnology. Liwei and Xianlian are working diligently on candidate genes impacting seed size in Arabidopsis, camelina and soybean. We just need to provide good training for each of them at the beginning and help them pursue their goals.

The best advice I ever received was?

Self-motivation is the path to success.