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Heike Sederoff


University Faculty Scholar


Partners Building III 216


Area(s) of Expertise

Plant Physiology and Metabolic Engineering

Metabolic Engineering to Improve Sustainability of Agriculture

Agricultural crop production is facing many challenges – now and in the future. An anticipated increase in the demand for food and feed under changing climate conditions requires improvements to quality and quantity of production. Our research aims to understand the molecular mechanisms responsible for plant responses to nutrient limitations of nitrogen, phosphate and water. To improve sustainability of agricultural crop production, we have engineered new pathways into plants that improve their efficiency in photosynthetic CO2 fixation, reduce energy and carbon losses, and increase their nutrient use efficiency.

Metabolic Engineering to Increase Oil Seed Crop Yield

Camelina sativa is an excellent oil crop for feed and biofuel production because it grows with little water and fertilizer on marginal land. To improve camelina as a dedicated biofuel plant, we have increased its photosynthetic CO2-fixation rates by modifying CO2 transport, assimilation and allocation and reducing the cost of photorespiraton. To extend its agricultural range, we are improving its stress tolerance against heat and drought.

Technology Development

We are currently working on new technologies to modify the plastid genome an regenerate homoplasmic crops. This technology will enable the generation of crops with better pest-resistance and provide a platform for the fast and safe production of biopharmaceuticals.

Re-engineering Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Symbiosis Brassicaeceae

Plants have evolved to optimize growth and survival in their physical (abiotic) and biological (biotic) environment. An important interaction is the ability to build symbiotic relationships with fungi and bacteria that enable them to access essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphate and water beyond the reach or ability of their roots. A symbiotic relationship has evolved between plant roots and specific fungi (e.g. Rhizophagus irregularis) which invade and form Arbuscular Mycorrhizae (AM). These fungal hyphae are thinner than plant roots and can therefore access nutrients and especially immobile phosphate in the soil in spaces the plant root cannot reach. AM fungi establishes an intracellular membrane system within host cells that enables the exchange of sugar and lipids from the plant for nutrients and water from the fungus. The great majority (~95%) of plant species on Earth form AM whereas, the agriculturally important Brassicaceae (e.g. rapeseed, mustards, cauliflower, cabbage) and Amaranthaceae (e.g. spinach, beets, quinoa) have lost the ability to establish this type of symbiosis with fungi. We have carried out comparative genome analysis of known symbiosis pathway elements and are transforming the “lost genes” into Camelina in an attempt to re-establish their ability to host AM.

Bigger and Better Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potato is ranked by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) as the seventh most important food crop in the world (FAO, 2013). In Ghana, sweetpotato has been ranked as the fourth most important crop. The crop is a rich source of important nutrients including beta carotene, and this makes sweetpotato an important crop to alleviate malnutrition and vitamin A deficiency in the developing countries. North Carolina is the No.1 sweet potato producing US State and NCSU has the largest breeding project in the US. We are developing gene-editing technologies for sweet potato to further increase its yield and nutritional content.

Courses taught:

  • BIT 476/576 Applied Bioinformatics
  • PB 751 Advanced Plant Physiology (Spring)
  • PB  495/595 Innovation in Agricultural Biotechnology (Fall)


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Ph.D., Biochemistry, University of Goettingen, Germany (1993)
M.S., Biochemistry, University of Goettingen, Germany (1990)