Public Release: 

Training grant in putting plants to work

University of California - Davis

Building expertise in putting plants to work is the aim of a new training program run by UC-Davis with Tuskegee University in Alabama. The National Science Foundation will provide a five-year grant of up to $3.1 million to support graduate students studying in areas where plant sciences, biotechnology and engineering overlap.

The Collaborative Research and Education in Agricultural Technologies and Engineering (CREATE) program will focus on using plant-derived products for biofuels, pharmaceuticals, and industrial products such as enzymes and biomaterials, said principal investigator Karen McDonald, professor of chemical engineering and materials science, and associate dean of the College of Engineering at UC Davis.

"It's timely because it combines plant sciences, biotechnology and engineering, and UC-Davis is in a prime position in these areas," McDonald said. For example, one student might work on genetically engineering a plant such as tobacco to produce a vaccine, while another could develop technology to process crop plants and extract the maximum value from them.

CREATE is an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program. The National Science Foundation's IGERT grants are intended to encourage cross-disciplinary training of graduate students.

The aim of the new program is to build a group of leaders with a broad view of plant sciences, biotechnology and engineering and an understanding of the wider economic, social and environmental issues in the field.

Part of the program is a "Master's to Ph.D. bridge" that will help students completing a master's degree at Tuskegee University to transfer to UC-Davis to study for a doctorate. New classes will be developed specifically for the program, and students will also complete a three-to-six month internship, either in the biotechnology industry or overseas at the University of Ireland, Maynooth, and the Teagasc Oak Park Research Centre, Ireland.

All UC-Davis graduate students taking part will be enrolled in the Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology.

The other UC-Davis faculty serving as co-investigators on the grant are Jean VanderGheynst, associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering, Pamela Ronald, professor of plant pathology, Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director of the University of California Biotechnology Research and Education Program, and Abhaya Dandekar, professor of plant sciences. In addition, 13 other faculty from the College of Engineering, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, College of Biological Sciences, College of Letters and Science, School of Medicine and School of Veterinary Medicine will serve as faculty trainers and mentors.

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