Iowa State University (ISU) is organizing a workshop focused on the knowledge, technology, and education needed to engineer agricultural products that are robust under changing climate. The ultimate goal is to develop a research and educational roadmap for engineered crops, of interest to the EPSCoR community because many jurisdictions are rural and have a strong agricultural heritage. The workshop is bringing together plant scientists, with expertise in improving crop performance, and engineers with knowledge of transport phenomena, thermodynamics, and modeling, to unlock the underlying structural and physiological properties of superior plant varieties. Engineering- and physics-based modeling of transport phenomena in plants is still in its infancy, but approximate models have been made and verified experimentally to describe the transport of water and sugar in plants. This workshop provides opportunities for plant scientists and engineers to develop a common language for engineered crops, share ongoing research, form new partnerships, and design the discipline of "plant engineering" - a cyber-enabled framework that will support accelerated crop design with desired optimal performance.

Intellectual Merit

Food security is among the top challenges facing humanity. Environmental stresses due to climate change are accelerating the need for plant modifications, either naturally or through genetic engineering. As a step towards addressing these challenges, ISU's workshop focuses on the emergence of engineering design methods rooted in plant physiology and transport phenomena, to develop improved crops with increased yield and/or better tolerance to abiotic stresses caused by climate change. These technologies have reached a stage where fundamental questions about optimal crop phenotypes can be answered, and the answers efficiently translated into crop improvement. The goal of tailoring crops using engineering know-how coupled with genetic engineering is novel, promising, and challenging. Workshop products include a written roadmap summarizing the necessary education, research and development to advance engineered crops, as well as publications, and a website for displaying outcomes.

Broader Impacts

There is a constant need to improve the efficiency and yield of global agricultural crop production in order to increase food supply. This workshop at ISU will offer opportunities to scientists and engineers from EPSCoR jurisdictions to develop an interdisciplinary approach towards the design and study of engineered crops. Activities in the workshop will highlight the contributions of agricultural businesses and researchers in EPSCoR jurisdictions to the development of engineered plants, and the education of future researchers able to work in this field. Workshop recruitment efforts focus on junior faculty and students from EPSCoR jurisdictions, including from community colleges and schools in the nearby locale that have high underrepresented minority science, technology, engineering, and mathematics enrollments.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Office of International and Integrative Activities (IIA)
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Uma Venkateswaran
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Iowa State University
United States
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