Virginia Tech® home

Seed Grants

greenhouse lab work
Thanks to support from the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, Translational Plant Sciences Center researchers receive internal seed grant funding after a rigorous peer review process. These seed grants support continued leading scientific discoveries in plant science through interdisciplinary collaborations. 

Seed Grant Awardees

 Fall 2023 Seed Grant Awardees

David Schmale III

Co PIs: Bastiaan Bargmann, School of Plant and Environmental Sciences; Nastassja Lewinski, College of Engineering at VCU; Wayne Strasser, School of Engineering (Liberty University)

"DREAM Sentinels: An Aerosol Sentinel System to Trap, Sense, and Eventually Destroy Airborne Plant Pathogens"

Award Amount: $10,000 for one year

The team plans to engineer phytosensors using plant tissue culture to sense and destroy obligate plant pathogens and then to deploy an aerosol sentinel system to trap airborne microbes. Preliminary data generated from this seed funding will be used to support the submission of a National Science Foundation DREAM Sentinels proposal.

Xiaofeng Wang

Co PIs: Bastiaan Bargmann, School of Plant and Environmental Sciences; Nicholas Santantonio, School of Plant and Environmental Sciences; Yongliang Zhang, China Agricultural University

"Development of a Virus-induced Transformation-free Genome Editing System in Wheat for Molecular Breeding and Gene Function Exploration"

Award Amount: $20,000 for two years

The team will establish an editing system where engineered viruses deliver guide RNAs and lead to editing events in meristem cells plants expressing the Cas9 enzyme to facilitate breeding and gene function exploration in cereal crops.

Eva Colla''kova'

Co PIs: Ryan Senger, Department of Biological Systems Engineering with Rametrix Technologies; John Robertson, Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics and CEO of Rametrix Technologies

"Developing and Testing a Portable Raman Spectrometer for Quantitative Crop Trait and Stress Phenotyping"

Award Amount: $20,000 for two years

The team proposes to design, develop, and test a compact Raman device prototype with a leaf-holding attachment that would enable more accurate quantitative phenotyping of field crops. In plant breeding, the analyzer will help speed up the selection of new stress-tolerant crop varieties or varieties with improved nutritional quality. The seed funding will enable the initial testing of various analyzer prototypes to get preliminary data for the large U.S. Department of Agriculture-Small Business Innovation Research proposal that would allow a large-scale testing and commercialization of the backpack Raman analyzer.

John McDowell

Co PIs: Amy Brunner, Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation; Jason Holliday, Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation; Jared Westbrook, Director of science for the American Chestnut Foundation

"Genomic Tools for American Chestnut Restoration"

Award Amount: $20,000 for two years

The team plans to develop a platform for rapid testing of candidate genes for chestnut blight resistance, which members have identified through a variety of functional and population genomic approaches, to enable diversification and stacking of resistance mechanisms in existing transgenic and hybrid restoration populations.

See the VT News Article here.



2021-2022 Seed Grant Awardees

Bastiaan Bargmann

Co PIs: Clay Wright (Biological Systems Engineering), T. M. Murali (Department of Computer Science)

"Reengineering Plant Architecture to Combat Climate Change Through Deconvolution of the Auxin Signaling Pathway"

Award Amount: $15,000

Genetic manipulation of plant growth and architecture is a promising tool in bioengineering crops for a more sustainable and resilient agriculture system. The phytohormone auxin is involved in just about every aspect of plant growth, development, and responses to the environment. The auxin signaling pathway is highly redundant and rife with nonspecific interactions. Our long-term goal is to deconvolute the densenetwork of auxin signaling and enable manipulation of specific growth responses.

Eva Colla'kova'

Co PI: Ryan Senger (Biological Systems Engineering)

"Digital farming in space: Developing rapid Raman-based multifactorial stress phenotyping methods for space exploration"

Award Amount: $10,000

Future space exploration will require growing crops efficiently under unique, multifactorial combinations of stress conditions. It will be imperative for astronauts to be able to detect and distinguish different types of stresses before crop yield or quality are negatively impacted. We propose to test Raman spectroscopy as a rapid and non-destructive method in conjunction with machine learning to predict abiotic stress phenotypes for space crop farming.

David Haak

Co PI: Maria Balota (School of Plant and Environmental Sciences)

"Leveraging translational genomics for the development of drought tolerant peanut"

Award Amount: $10,000

This project aims to develop translational solutions to enhance abiotic stress tolerance in an important oil seed and food crop, peanut (Arachis hypogaea L.). This will be done by integrating three axes of investigation, identifying genome scale markers, high throughput phenotypic-genomic trait associations through QTL mapping, and the identification of elite genotypes among recombinant lines for breeding. Combining these strategies, we will generate a set of community tools for enhancing peanut resistance to environmental stresses.

Marta Lima

Co PI: Azahar Ali (School of Animal Sciences)

"FeNICS: Fe-Nutrition Improvement with Chitosan & Sensors"

Award Amount: $10,000

Iron deficiency chlorosis (IDC) is an important agronomical problem in soybean production. Usually, iron is not limited in soils, but its bioavailability for plants is an issue. Finding sustainable products and practices to ameliorate IDC is a priority. We propose to study role of a natural product, chitosan, in improving IDC, and to develop an iron sensor prototype. The development of these products could considerably advance the smart and environmentally sustainable management of IDC.

Birgit Scharf

Co PI: Brittany J. Belin (Carnegie Institution for Science)

"Chemotaxis-driven motility in Bradyrhizobium diazoefficiens host interaction"

Award Amount: $15,000

One unique group of motile soil bacteria are rhizobia that can engage in symbiotic relationships with legumes, which supplies the host with the limiting nutrient nitrogen. Chemotaxis allows model rhizobia Sinorhizobium meliloti and Bradyrhizobium diazoefficiens to recognize their hosts, which improves symbiosis and enhances plant growth. The overarching goal is to define the B. diazoefficiens chemoattractome and to characterize its chemoreceptors. This research could open important new avenues for addressing daunting agricultural and environmental issues.

Boris Vinatzer

Co PI: Lenwood S. Heath (Computer Science)

"Targeting fast and precise genome-based identification for viral, fungal, and oomycete

Award Amount: $35,000

Fast and precise pathogen identification is a key component of pandemic prevention, be it for human, animal, or plant diseases. The PIs have already developed, and are currently expanding and improving, a Web server for genome-based identification of bacterial pathogens with resolution from the species rank to near outbreak-level. Here the PIs propose to modify the currently used algorithms with the goal to expand their Web server to all pathogen types: viruses, fungi, and oomycetes.

Brenda Winkel

Co PI: Jonathan I. Watkinson (Department of Biological Sciences)

"Characterization of the fungal microbiome in orchid roots to improve understanding of eco-physiological aspects of plant growth and development"

Award Amount: $5,000

Understanding the role of the root microbiome in plant growth and development requires analysis of microbial partners in a wide range of plant species. Initial characterization of fungal species in orchid roots revealed diverse fungal partners with distinct potential functions. More focused analysis of fungi in roots of native orchids will provide new insights into orchid fungal dynamics and allow for the development of a robust research program that will be incorporated into innovative pedagogy.

Bingyu Zhao

Co PI: Boris Vinatzer (School of Plant and Environmental Sciences)

"Develop a retron-based genome editing tool and screen Acidovorax citrulli genes controlling the host-specificity"

Award Amount: $10,000

Creating and characterizing the bacterial mutant carrying different gene alleles at the whole genome scale is still challenging. Herein, we plan to develop an approach that substantially simplifies the pipeline for creating mutant Acidovorax citrulli strains that can be functionally screened with the next-generation sequencing technology.