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Integrative Microbial and Plant Systems Research Experience

The Integrative Microbial and Plant Systems Undergraduate Research Experience focuses on basic and applied questions about plant-microbe interactions in the face of climate change and global food security hardships. NC State has a strong core of plant and microbial biologists who work in the areas of sustainable foods, fuels and computer modeling for studying fundamental biological mechanisms. Four major research themes across these faculty are stress resilience, nutrient acquisition in plant and microbial systems, signaling in plant-microbe systems, and plant-microbiome modeling. 

During a 10-week summer program, students actively engage in a research project under the mentorship of a participating faculty member. Participants receive housing on campus, travel expenses when applicable, a food allowance and a stipend of $6,000. This program is funded by the National Science Foundation.

2024 Program Dates: May 20th to July 28th

Application Deadline: February 22nd, 2024
(See below for details)

Program Activities

The program kicks off with a three-day “biotechnology boot camp,” where participants will learn critical molecular biology laboratory skills. Participants pursue independent research projects for the remainder of the summer, under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Students also have multiple public-speaking opportunities to present their research, including a poster presentation at the campus-wide undergraduate research symposium at the end of the program.

Projects fall under four general themes:

Theme: Stress Resilience

Sample Projects:

  • Establishing the contribution of Archaea to plant-microbe community structures and stress resilience (Dr. Amy Grunden).
  • Investigating the effect of the seed microbiome on plant health (Dr. Manuel Kleiner)
  • Investigating the effect of climate on plant-microbe interactions in diverse maize genotypes (Dr. Peter Balint-Kurti)
  • Assessing the effect of weather-related temperature changes on plant stress responses (Dr. Colleen Doherty).

Theme: Nutrient Acquisition in Plant and Microbial Systems

Sample Projects:

  • Characterizing the regulation of iron homeostasis in plants (Dr. Terri Long).
  • Analyzing the role of plant growth promoting bacteria on nitrogen acquisition and resistance to fungal infection (Dr. Oliver Baars).
  • Genetic mapping of metabolic traits involved in maize local adaptation (Dr. Ruben Rellan-Alvarez).

Theme: Signaling in Plant-Microbe Systems

Sample Projects:

  • Identifying Arabidopsis genes that are necessary for resistance breaking by two cassava genomic DNA sequences that function across pathosystems (Dr. Linda Hanley-Bowdoin).
  • Molecular genetics, genomics and synthetic biology approaches to understand the role of plant hormones and translation regulation in plant adaptation and phenotypic plasticity (Dr. Anna Stepanova and Dr. Jose Alonso).
  • Examining the dynamics of microbe-driven heterosis in maize (Dr. Manuel Kleiner)

Theme: Plant-Microbiome Modelling

Sample Projects:

  • Identifying high-yield, stress-tolerant plant phenotypes using advanced modeling (Dr. Ross Sozzani).
  • A systematic approach to culture and classify fungi within the microbiomes of diseased plants (Dr. Michael Bradshaw)
  • Investigating the interacting components that influence the survival, establishment, and suppression of plant pathogenic bacteria within the context of the plant microbiome (Dr. Alejandra Huerta).
  • Developing computational algorithms for spatial and temporal tracking of gene expression in plant roots (Dr. Cranos Williams).

Who Should Apply

The program is open to all rising sophomore, junior and senior undergraduate students with a demonstrated interest in molecular biology and who are enrolled in a program leading to a baccalaureate degree. Applicants will be evaluated based on their statement of interest, transcript and letters of recommendation. We particularly encourage students from underrepresented minority groups and from colleges with limited research opportunities to apply. Prior research experience is not required. NC State is an equal opportunity institution and prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and veteran status.  

Applicants must be U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or permanent residents of the United States.

Financial Support

Stipends, room, board and travel expenses are provided.

  • Stipend: $6250 for the 10-week session
  • Room and board: Apartment-style accommodations on campus and $100 per week food allowance
  • Travel expenses: Round-trip air travel will be provided to participants who do not live within driving distance of the program


Application Deadline: February 22nd, 2024

  • Complete the online application
  • Upload a one-page statement of purpose and a transcript (downloaded or scanned transcripts are acceptable). Please have these ready prior to completing the application.
    • The personal statement should demonstrate why you are interested in science and research, your career and educational goals, and why you think this research experience would benefit you. Include any laboratory skills, research experience, awards, honors or extracurricular activities you would like us to know about. Please also discuss preferred areas of research based on the sample projects listed above.
  • Ask one faculty member to submit a letter of recommendation.