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Tommy Carter and Amy Grunden compare drought-tolerant soybean plants

Research Programs

What we Think and Do drives innovation in plant improvementdata-driven plant science and resilient agricultural systems.

Learn more about our interdisciplinary research teams and their extraordinary impact.

GRIP4PSI Projects

The Game‐Changing Research Incentive Program for Plant Sciences Initiative (GRIP4PSI) was initiated by NC State to encourage collaboration on integrated research and outreach projects focused on one or more of the Research Platforms in the N.C. PSI. NC State provided competitive seed funding for four interdisciplinary team-based research and outreach projects totaling $2.3M.

Big Data for Better Sweetpotatoes

Big data platform to take tons of sweetpotato photos to improve productivity

A multidisciplinary team led by Cranos Williams is developing a data-driven platform to discover how to grow a superior sweetpotato. This project is part of the broader Sweet-APPS Program.

They aim to combine information from images of hundreds of thousands of sweetpotatoes and their growth conditions to determine the factors that impact sweetpotato size and shape to increase the percentage of sweetpotatoes that are USDA grade 1. The platform will use custom imaging to detect shape, size, surface texture, internal composition and crop damage. That data then enters a computational platform — created in partnership with Intero Life Sciences and SAS, Inc. — to improve decision-making for North Carolina growers, producers and distributors.

Fertilizer of the Future

Harnessing new technologies to cut energy use, protect water and help farmers

An interdisciplinary team of researchers at NC State, led by Katharina Stapelmann, is setting out on an ambitious 3-year project to tackle the energy-intensive process of producing and shipping nitrogen-based fertilizer derived from plasma.

They will test two methods of on-farm fertilizer production and develop an on-demand, precision fertigation system to detect soil moisture and nitrogen levels and then supply water and nutrients exactly where they are needed. This should lead to less waste, less fertilizer runoff into the water supply and increased crop yields.


Using leaf-living fungi to improve crop resilience to drought and disease

A team of engineers, plant pathologists and microbiologists led by Christine Hawkes will study how plant fungal symbionts can improve crop resilience.

They will determine if fungi can be manipulated across entire landscapes, identify highly beneficial fungi and the genes that produce the benefits, develop methods to identify microscopic fungi, and explore potential policy implications and stakeholder responses to fungal manipulation in crops. The team aims to develop practical tools to adapt crops to later cold snaps, longer heat waves, bigger hurricanes and atypical droughts.


Developing a cost-effective sensor system to detect emerging plant diseases

An interdisciplinary team led by Jean Ristaino will develop an innovative platform to monitor crops for signs of early plant disease. They will attach cost-effective sensors to tomato plants, checking for various markers of disease and stress. That data — collected wirelessly on smartphones — will then be integrated with a bioinformatics and geospatial database to alert growers of new outbreaks.

A continuation of this project received a $1M Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Preparedness (PIPP) Grant from the NSF as the only proposal of 26 total grantees dedicated to the plant sciences.

PSI-Hosted Centers & Consortiums

Center for Environmental Farming Systems

Creating a future of vibrant farms, resilient ecosystems and strong communities

Co-Director: Michelle Schroeder-Moreno

CEFS is one of the nation’s most important centers for research, extension and education in sustainable agriculture and community-based food systems. It is recognized as a national and international leader in the local foods movement and celebrated for its work in building consensus around policies, programs and actions. CEFS’ Field Research, Education, and Outreach Facility at Cherry Research Farm in Goldsboro, NC is one of the nation’s leading research and demonstration sites for large-scale organic and sustainable production systems and includes research based out of seven research units.

Center of Excellence for Regulatory Science in Agriculture

Advancing knowledge, transparency, and public acceptance of regulatory science in agriculture.

Director: Danesha Seth Carly

CERSA collaborates with state and federal agencies, private industry, commodity groups, growers and producers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and academics to advance regulatory science in agriculture through education, research and engagement.

It provides undergraduate and graduate certificates, continuing education training and internships in regulatory science, and sponsored research for the advancement of regulatory science in agriculture.

CERSA is co-led by NC State and Louisiana State University.

Controlled Environment Agriculture Coalition

Industry-focused, cost-effective and sustainable solutions to plant production

Director: Ricardo Hernandez

Comprised of research scientists, engineers and in close partnership with industry, the CEA Coalition aims to develop controlled environment agriculture (CEA) as an economically and environmentally sustainable option for agricultural practices by performing evidence-based, transformative research.

Precision Sustainable Agriculture Network

Nationwide project on cover crops to improve agricultural sustainability

Co-Director: Chris Reberg-Horton

This is a five-year, $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve the sustainability and profitability of agriculture by advancing the study and use of cover crops such as rye, clover and radishes.

The interdisciplinary team includes experts from 36 institutions.

Science and Technologies for Phosphorus Sustainability (STEPS) Center

Interdisciplinary research community focused on phosphorus sustainability 

Director: Jacob Jones

The STEPS Center is a convergent research group addressing the complex challenges in phosphorus sustainability by integrating disciplinary contributions across the physical, life, social, and economic sciences. Although headquartered in the new Plant Sciences Building, the center includes researchers from eight institutions across the country.

Multi-Institutional PSI Research Programs


International Collaboration to Accelerate Integration of Engineering, Plant Sciences & Agricultural Research using Artificial Intelligence

This diverse collaboration seeks to support the successful integration of agriculture, life sciences and engineering to resolve scientific and technical gaps as well as social barriers with the overarching goal of ensuring global food security. The three research objectives include: sensor science, engineering, and integration; data mining, machine learning, multi-scale modeling, and AI models; and open-source data and network cyberinfrastructures.

Biocatalyst Interactions with Gases (BIG) Collaboration

Uncovering new methods for CO2 management and sustainable fertilizer

Reducing carbon emissions and developing alternative routes for fertilizer production are increasingly urgent challenges facing our world. This interdisciplinary research collaboration between North Carolina State University (NC State) and the Technical University of Denmark (Danmarks Tekniske Universitet, DTU) is funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation (NNF) and will receive 50 million Danish Kroner (DKK), approximately $6.5 million, in funding over five years.

Collaborative Crop Resilience Program

Interdisciplinary research program targets wheat microbes for resiliency

Amy Grunden is leading a six-year, $30 million study on the wheat microbiome to make the staple crop more resilient against environmental stresses while reducing the need for chemical treatments and irrigation. The project is supported by the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

The University of CopenhagenAarhus University and the Technical University of Denmark will collaborate on the project.


System Approach to Promote Learning and Innovation for the Next GenerationS

NC State is co-leading a 5-year, $18 million USDA grant alongside fellow land-grant university N.C. A&T and six other 1890s universities, various national organizations, USDA and private companies. The program aims to grow the number of underrepresented minority students in the food, agriculture, natural resources and human sciences. NC State’s portion, co-led by Cranos Williams and Jon Allen, will create a fellowship program for two graduate students, four undergraduate students and two high school interns. The PSI extension agent network will also receive significant funding to train agents in AI tools..

Talking the Plant Talk

Tiny sensors to translate the language of plants for precision farming

A cross-college team of plant scientists and engineers have developed small, inexpensive sensors to detect the volatile organic compounds plants use to communicate with each other. They are eavesdropping on crops such as tomatoes and wheat to detect pests, pathogens and other stressors before the plants show visible signs of trouble.

Labs in the Plant Sciences Building

EnBiSys Lab

Driving the next revolution in plant science and agriculture data analytics

Director: Cranos Williams

The EnBiSys Lab is a highly collaborative, multidisciplinary research laboratory, focused on the development of targeted computational and analytical solutions for modeling and controlling biological systems. The solutions we develop are used to build and strengthen the transition from large-scale high-throughput –omics data to highly connected kinetic models in the post-genomic era; models that can be used to attain the depth, understanding, and comprehension needed to manipulate and control biological systems for a defined purpose.

Forest Biotech Group

34 years of research innovation in forest biotechnology

Founded in 1988, the Forest Biotech Group (FBG) is dedicated to research innovations in forest biotechnology and molecular genetics of tree metabolism to improve growth, development and defense against biotic and abiotic stresses. Their research goal is the domestication of forest trees for conservation and productivity through a systems-level approach.

Gage Lab

Improving crop varieties through genomics and high throughput phenotyping

Principal Investigator: Joe Gage

Joe Gage’s research program is focused on linking crop genomic and phenomics to understand how to develop more resilient and productive crop varieties. Current projects include studying how sequence variation controls gene regulation; how gene regulation contributes to genotype-by-environment interactions; and novel methods for processing and interpreting high throughput phenotyping data.

Interdisciplinary Risk Sciences Research Group

Understanding, managing and communicating complex environmental health risks in a post-2020 world

Principal Investigator: Khara Grieger

To reduce risks and better align benefits with societal values, needs, and expectations, new approaches are urgently needed. Scientists, researchers, industry, government, and other actors will naturally turn towards the development of new technological solutions and products of innovation to secure safe and sustainable futures. At the same time, new innovations and novel technologies can also present unknown risks as well as controversies in society. Well-known examples include first generation of genetically-modified organisms, nanotechnology, geoengineering, new materials for environmental remediation, and even new vaccines. Working interdisciplinarily within science, technology, social sciences, and governance, the Risk Sciences Research Group aims to strategically incorporate practices that foster responsible and sustainable innovation in order to ultimately solve our grand challenges without creating additional challenges themselves.

Long Lab

Understanding plant iron deprivation to address global nutritional outcomes

Principal Investigator: Terri Long

Anemia induced by iron deficiency is one of the most prevalent nutritional disorders in the world. Their research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms that plants use to uptake, transport, and utilize iron, and respond to low iron conditions. Using genomics, molecular biology and genetics, their work is focused on identifying iron deficiency response regulators and their corresponding gene targets, with the long-term goal of elucidating gene regulatory networks involved in plant iron homeostasis. Ultimately, this information may lead to the generation of crops with increased nutritional content and increased yield when grown in poor soils.

Maize Breeding and Genetics Collaboration

Corn breeding and genetics project of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service

Principal Investigator: Jim Holland

This collaborative team aims to characterize the genes underlying important agricultural traits in maize (corn) to develop new breeding lines. Two specific research foci are to improve resistance to Fusarium ear rot in corn and to develop new specialty food corn varieties, including improved heirloom food corns and low protein grain corns for patients with metabolic disorders.

NC State Vegetable Pathology Lab

Studying diseases to improve disease management for farmers

Principal Investigator: Lina Quesada-Ocampo

This lab leads interdisciplinary studies of diseases of cucurbit crops and sweetpotatoes to deliver novel and improved disease management strategies to growers in North Carolina and to advance our knowledge in the field of vegetable pathology.

Optical Sensing Lab

Making smaller, faster and more capable optical systems for plant and human health.

Principal Investigator: Mike Kudenov

The lab’s major research area is in spectral and polarimetric imaging as it applies to both remote sensing and biomedical imaging applications. Through incorporating novel Polarization Grating (PG) technologies into spectral and polarimetric sensors, the researchers in OSL are increasing the sensor’s spatial, spectral or radiometric performance, or reducing the sensor’s overall size or cost. An emphasis is given on the development of ultra-compact sensors with novel capabilities. From a remote sensing perspective, it can be used to quantify chemicals in the environment, perform quality control in industrial and commercial manufacturing processes, assess water quality and vegetation health, identify targets, and for mineral mapping.

Precision Pest Ecology Lab

Confronting pest pressure in field crops and sweetpotatoes in the southeast

Principal Investigator: Anders Huseth

This lab seek to understand relevant interactions between nature, crops and farmers by revealing harmony and conflict between pest control, environmental and socio-economic goals. Work in the Huseth Lab combines on-farm measurements, manipulative experiments, geospatial science and statistical approaches to understand pest issues in an array of agricultural crops and production systems.

Ristaino Lab

Detecting, tracking and addressing emerging plant diseases that threaten global food security

Principal Investigator: Jean Ristaino

A major focus of research is to understand the factors that contribute to disease emergence including the epidemiology and population genetics of Oomycete plant pathogens in the genus Phytophthora. They study the population genetics and migrations of both historic and present day strains of the pathogen and are now using their genome sequence to develop novel strategies for managing disease in the field, including the development of a platform to be used in the field to monitor disease and recommend amendments.

Sozzani Lab

Understanding plant stem cells using 3D bioprinting and other innovations for plant improvement

Principal Investigator: Ross Sozzani

The Sozzani Lab research focuses on understanding how stem cells are organized and maintained in the root of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Their goal is to gain a coherent qualitative and quantitative understanding of stem cell maintenance at the systems-level. Their research leverages techniques derived from molecular, developmental and cell biology, mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer science and engineering. Their research will reveal a specific molecular pathway of plant stem cells, and provide broader insights into the fundamental properties of stem cells across the plant and animal kingdoms.

Sustainable and Organic Soil Fertility Lab

Climate change mitigation and adaptation through sustainable agriculture and improved soil health

Principal Investigator: Alex Woodley

This research program is focused on the mitigation and adaptation to climate change in sustainable agricultural systems through improved soil productivity. Research initiatives include linking soil health indicators to productive agroecosystems, mitigation of soil greenhouse gas emissions, soil carbon sequestration and nutrient management of fertilizers, organic amendments and cover crops.

Member of the Climate Adaptation Through Agriculture & Soil Management (CASM) research initiative.

Wei Research Group

Innovating disease diagnostics by developing cost-effective sensing tools

Principal Investigator: Qingshan Wei

This engineering research group works to understand the fundamentals of optics, chemistry, and molecular biology for rapid and ultrasensitive molecular detection. They are interested in applying miniature sensor and assay technologies in precision / tele-medicine, AgBio research, environmental science and biomanufacturing.

Whitehill Lab: Christmas Tree Genetics Program

Cutting-edge research utilizing modern genomic technologies and approaches

Principal Investigator: Justin Whitehill

This program is working to advance North Carolina’s Christmas tree industry by addressing grower challenges and concerns through the application of genetic, genomic and molecular biology principles.

N.C. PSI brings together experts across multiple disciplines to solve agricultures grand challenges.

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