Plants convert sunlight into chemical energy, allowing them to synthesize the organic compounds needed to sustain human life on earth; thus plants provide essential nutrients, medicines, shelter and energy. As human culture has progressed, we have utilized plants in increasingly sophisticated ways, progressing from breeding- based agriculture through discovery of modern medicines and most recently using biotechnology. We now look to plants to address global issues such as the sustainable production of fuels to mitigate the environmental impacts of fossil fuels. Plant diversity is enormous and relatively litte of the chemical repertoire of plants has been recognized and utilized. Plant biotechnology has the potential to meet many of the current challenges threatening human wellbeing, but maintaining or improving the health of a growing world population against a backdrop of a changing environment will require that plant scientists receive innovative and cross-disciplinary training. The goal of the Plant Biotechnology for Health and Sustainability (PBHS) predoctoral training program is to foster the education, training, and professional development of the next generation of interdisciplinary scientists who will assume leadership positions in health and sustainability-related biotechnology careers, including academia, industry, government, and entrepreneurship. A set of core competencies will be emphasized including integrating a broad set of content areas related to health and reduced environmental impacts, developing critical thinking, and honing communication skills essential for effective collaboration across disciplines. Trainees will be exposed to the full biotechnology pipeline from basic research to commercialization. Emphasis will be placed on building specific skill sets designed to promote personal and professional development and provide a basis for evaluation of trainee performance. Bachelor's and master's degree level trainees will enter the PBHS program at the end of the second semester of predoctoral training. During the second year of predoctoral work, trainees will take three courses that introduce concepts in plant biotechnology, collaborative and quantitative research and that describe paths for translation of basic research into commercial products. The program will provide stipends to three to seven students at a time for two years each; these NRSA-funded students will be joined by one to two Michigan State University Graduate School-funded students.
Plants play a central role in public health by providing calories, nutrients and medicines for humans and the animals that we rely on for our wellbeing. Rapid human population growth and dietary changes in make it increasingly important to develop new approaches to harness plants and photosynthetic microbes to improve human health in an environmentally sustainable way. These '21st Century' approaches to improving human health and environmental wellbeing will require a biotechnology workforce with a new set of cross- disciplinary technical skills and an understanding of the full biotechnology pipeline from discovery to commercialization.
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