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Faculty and Staff

Rellán-Álvarez Receives DOE Early Career Research Funding

A plant experiencing phosphorus deficiency

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Rubén Rellán-Álvarez received a prestigious award from the U.S. Department of Energy to research plant adaptation to abiotic stresses — non-living factors that negatively impact living organisms in a specific environment.

Rellán-Álvarez, an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular and Structural Biochemistry, will receive $750K over a period of five years from the Office of Biological and Environmental Research as part of the Department of Energy’s Early Career Research (CAREER) Program.

The DOE early CAREER program supports researchers early in their careers to develop long-term (five years) projects and help them solidify their research programs by providing support for training students and postdocs. 

“Maintaining our nation’s braintrust of world-class scientists and researchers is one of DOE’s top priorities—and that means we need to give them the resources they need to succeed early on in their careers,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “These awardees show exceptional potential to help us tackle America’s toughest challenges and secure our economic competitiveness for decades to come.”

“It is always a great honor and responsibility as public servants to be funded by public agencies,” says Rellán-Álvarez. “We will do our best to give back to society in the form of new research and training of students.”

Rellán-Álvarez says this project will allow his team to strengthen their multidisciplinary approach to studying plant adaptation to abiotic stresses. 

“Identifying the genes and genetic variation in those genes involved in plant adaptation to biotic and abiotic stresses is relevant for both basic and applied plant biology. Gene identification usually comes down to selecting from a list of candidate genes that can be identified via different approaches like genetic mapping and transcriptomics,” he explains.

After they identify genes involved in adaptation to particular stress they can then use gene editing from varieties carrying better alleles to improve adaptation. 

“We think the approaches we will develop will be applicable to other species,” says Rellán-Álvarez. “It’s exciting to start working with a new species like sorghum and apply some of the ideas we have been using in maize. Maize and sorghum are close relatives and we are looking forward to performing comparative analysis between the two species.”

Rellán-Álvarez says this grant supports their preliminary work developed mainly by NC State graduate student Fausto Rodríguez-Zapata and collaborations with Dave Muddiman at NC State’s METRIC laboratories, NC State’s Jung-Ying Tzeng from the statistics department, Steve Kresovich at Clemson University, and Zach Brenton, founder of Carolina Seed Systems Inc.