Plant Sciences

Pioneering science fuels Purdue’s innovative approaches to the growing demand for food, fuel and fiber. The University’s investment in plant science research at the launch of Purdue Moves in 2013 has generated tens of millions of dollars in new grants and gifts that have strengthened research programs and our ability to deploy discoveries for global impact. Turning data into decisions, and training others in Indiana and around the world to do so, is critical to increasing the efficiency, profitability and sustainability of agriculture and food systems, and Purdue will lead the way. 

Goals

  • Lead the world in understanding plant biology.
  • Translate our discoveries to commercially important crops, using automation to assess the crops' performance under field conditions and moving these improved plants or plant products through a pipeline for commercialization.
  • Expand research and education in plant biology by:
    • Establishing a 
    • Hiring 10 new faculty in basic plant biology to strengthen basic research. 
  • Develop automated field and controlled environment phenotyping facilities. These will position Purdue as a leader in phenotyping using state-of-the-art imaging.
  • Establish an Internet of Things (IoT) test bed for digital agriculture.
  • Create a plant commercialization incubator to enhance the value of intellectual property and make Purdue industry’s preferred partner.
  • Enhance student training by upgrading laboratory facilities and investing in high school and undergraduate students’ research.
  • Develop student leaders in the plant sciences.

Major Milestones

Accomplishments

  • The College of Agriculture has generated more than $40 million in new grants and gifts on top of Purdue’s original investment of more than $20 million in plant sciences. These have strengthened plant research programs at the University and our ability to deploy discoveries for global impact.
  • The college has strengthened the university's research capacity in plant sciences through the Center for Plant Biology
    • This community of 36 faculty members provides a broad base of resources and research in basic plant biology and a dynamic training environment for graduate students. 
    • Faculty members receive a discounted rate when using designated core facilities, have access to internal peer-reviewed funding mechanisms and offer graduate student assistantships.
    • The center has also welcomed 10 new faculty since 2016 with research foci ranging from ecology to reproductive cell biology.
    • An IoT test bed at the Agronomy Center for Research and Education (ACRE) is in place, enabling wireless access across the 1,400-acre farm. Testing of various sensors and signal strength is ongoing with remote towers in the field and real-time measurements of greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Two state-of-the-art phenotyping facilities are now online:
      • Indiana Corn and Soybean Innovation Center (August 2016): This 25,500-square-foot automated field phenotyping facility at the Agronomy Center for Research and Education (ACRE) is the only field phenotyping facility of its kind at a U.S. university. It is open to Purdue faculty, staff and students. The center features state-of-the-art technologies for plant processing, seed analysis, threshing and shelling, advanced sensing and data management. A combined $4 million investment from the Indiana Soybean Alliance and the Indiana Corn Marketing Council supports the center. AgReliant Genetics, Ag Alumni Seed, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer and ALMACO are also key partners. Researchers and students at the center learn how a plant’s genetic makeup adapts and reacts to the environment to produce complex plant traits such as growth, tolerance, and yield, which are measured through phenotyping. Faculty from the colleges of Agriculture, Engineering and Science and the Purdue Polytechnic Institute use sensors to gather information about how plants grow in the field. Massive data sets are being developed to integrate data into predictive models so researchers can select the most promising plants for further research. So far, the center:
        • Has welcomed more than 4,000 visitors and hosted more than 40 research teams from the colleges of Agriculture, Engineering, Science and Liberal Arts, and the Purdue Polytechnic Institute.
        • Is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment: approximately 30 unmanned aerial vehicles, with 12 pilots to fly the UAVs; a phenorover; specialized imaging equipment, including Lidar, thermal, hyper- and multispectral cameras; and RGB imaging.  Data is transmitted to campus via fiber optic cable.
      • Controlled Environment Phenotyping Facility (spring 2018): This center allows the characterization of plants using various imaging technologies under highly uniform growth conditions for precise control and replication of experimental variables that cannot be easily controlled in the field. Researchers are able to study a range of environmental and atmospheric conditions, watering, plant nutrition and soils, all while testing additional variables such as the effects of chemical application.
        • In 2019, researchers will nondestructively image roots as a result of a $900,000 gift from Ag Alumni Seed, which allowed us to purchase and install a root CT scanner to complement existing imaging systems. This enables imaging all the way from the roots through full-height corn.
  • After being trained at the Indiana Corn and Soybean Innovation Center, 18 Extension educators are flying unmanned aerial vehicles at farms around the state to gather data on individual farms to begin making actionable decisions and develop test cases for further training.
  • Launched Ag-Celerator in December 2015, a $2 million fund to help launch startups and innovations focused on advancing crop traits and higher yields. It supports Purdue innovators who wish to commercialize patented intellectual property or Purdue know-how technologies in plant sciences.
    • More than 56 projects have moved through Ag-Celerator.
    • Fifteen new startups have been selected for funding.
  • Several programs and facilities have been developed to broaden student reach and training:
    • The Molecular Agriculture Summer Institute (MASI) began in 2014 to expose high school students and undergraduates to plant sciences and molecular agriculture research. This popular program attracts pre-college students into STEM, promotes undergraduate research in plant biology, stimulates student and faculty collaboration, and trains students for high-tech science careers. Since its inception, 51 undergraduates and 69 pre-college students have completed their respective MASI programs.
    • Beck's Molecular Genetics Teaching Lab in Lilly Hall is a student-centered learning facility renovated in fall 2015 that accommodates twice the number of students in genetics laboratory courses each semester. A similar lab was also built in the Biochemistry Building.
    • In May 2017, Purdue kicked off an 11-week paid internship called ASPIRE (Ag Soy Product Innovation Realization & Entrepreneurship) for student innovators to conduct research, participate in customer delivery activities and advance their innovation toward commercialization.