New Hire Announcement – Welcome, Dr. Florence Sessoms

May. 15, 2023
Welcome, Dr. Sessoms!

New Hire Announcement – Welcome, Dr. Florence Sessoms!

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Florence Sessoms will be joining HCS in August 2023 as an Assistant Professor in Roots, Rhizospheres, and Resilience at The Ohio State University!

Department Chair, Dr. Doug Karcher, summed up our collective excitement best: “Dr. Sessoms will bring a strong research background investigating the soil microbiome especially as related to plant root function and nutrient uptake efficiency. She will help us to figure out how to best manage the soil to improve crop resiliency in ever-increasing stressful environments. She has experience working in commodity crops, ornamentals, and turfgrass systems, so I expect that she will have meaningful collaborations with several of our faculty, as well as faculty from other departments, and institutions. We are also excited to utilize her expertise in our degree programs as she will be teaching plant mineral nutrition, among other courses related to her discipline.”

Currently, Dr. Sessoms is a Researcher in the Turfgrass Science Group for the Department of Horticultural Science at the University of Minnesota. Among her current research interests are: plant interactions with soil micro-organisms; soil nitrogen conservation in turfgrass systems; and maintenance of ecosystem services under reduced input management. Prior to this role she held postdoctoral fellowships at the Biotechnology Institute (2014-2016) and the Plant Pathology department (2013-2014) both at the University of Minnesota. Additionally, Dr. Sessoms was a postdoctoral fellow at the Boyce Thompson Institute (2009-2012) an independent research institute located on Cornell University’s campus.

Dr. Sessoms received her Ph.D. at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) under the advisement of Dr. Didier Reinhardt. Her dissertation focused on Genetic and nutritional regulation of the arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis between Petunia hybrida and Glomus intraradices - 2009. You can learn more about her thesis through this publication. Prior to pursuing her Ph.D., Dr. Sessoms received her M.S. (Population and Ecosystem Biology - 2003) & B.A.Sc. (Organism’s Biology - 2001) from the University Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris VI, France). Fun fact Dr. Sessoms is fully bilingual in French and English!

Some core areas Dr. Sessoms plans to focus on at Ohio State

  • Research
    • Establishing a research program focused on, but not be limited to, rhizosphere ecology; water and nutrient dynamics; crop stress mitigation (including through crop improvement); plant-microbe interactions to enhance crop productivity and agroecosystem resilience; and rhizosphere-root-shoot-atmosphere communication and interaction. 
    • Research will balance mechanistic and applied aims to clarify linkages among root biology, cropping system management, and agroecological outcomes.
  • Teaching
    • Furthering student education by leading several plant related courses, including plant mineral nutrition.

Wow, that's quite a broad range of high-impact responsibilities & we could not be happier to bring Dr. Sessoms on board for this exciting task! Luckily, she had a minute to step away from the plants & sit down with us to give us a brief glimpse into her thoughts...

What are you most looking forward to about this next step in your career?

I am so delighted to be a new faculty member of the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science. This department has so much to offer, great collaborations and facilities. I believe it is a fantastic place to develop my new lab, and I am excited be part of this thriving scientific community. 

What are some of your initial plans for your 1st year with HCS?

Oh la la! (as we say in French). There are so many things to do during the first year: 

  • Establishing my new lab, looking for space in greenhouse, growth chambers and field locations. 
  • Recruiting students and maybe hiring a lab manager.
  • Discussing with my new colleagues and developing collaborative research projects on different crops. Start to apply to different grant agencies.
  • I have a teaching appointment so I will definitely start to work on the plant nutrition class I will start in 2024.  
  • Learning the ropes of being a junior faculty. 

What initially sparked your interest in roots, rhizospheres, & resilience?

I started to work with mycorrhizal fungi during my PhD in Switzerland. It was eye opening to learn how these tiny and unseen soil organisms can have so much impact for plants and soil health. Later in my career, I understood we could not achieve better ecosystems sustainability and resilience by only relying on plant breeding and focusing only on above plant biomass. We need to have a better understanding of the soil community and take full advantage of its many benefits for the plants. The rhizosphere, its multitude of organisms, and their interactions in the soil and with the plants can lead to fantastic discoveries and reach this goal of improved ecosystem resilience and sustainability, especially in this changing world. 

What have been a few highlights of your career so far?

Personally, it is a tough question because I am so proud of all the research projects I have participated in. Every research project was a new road leading to amazing discovery and fun collaborations. But, I can think of several scientific and non-scientific career highlights:  

During my PhD in Switzerland, I was able to confirm that nitrogen supply, as phosphate, participates in the regulation of mycorrhizal establishment in the plant root system. These results highlighted how different types of fertility treatment can influence mycorrhizal establishment and affect its benefits for the plant. I received a fellowship award for prospective researchers from Swiss National Science Foundation that allowed me to continue a similar type of research at the Boyce Thompson Institute (Ithaca, USA).

During my postdoc in the Department of Soil, Water, Climate at the University of Minnesota, I found that several soil parameters could influence the nitrifier populations and nitrification. This made me realize how important it is to have a better knowledge of the soil parameters to understand their implication with roots and rhizosphere functions. 

As a non-scientific highlight, I had the chance to work in diverse and creative labs. So far, I have worked in France, Switzerland and the USA. I have met people coming from India, China, Nepal, Germany, Switzerland, France, Tunisia, Korea, and Mexico. I can definitely say that the academic world had allowed me to be introduced to amazing scientists from so many different cultures and backgrounds; it educated me and kept my mind open. 

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

I love nature and I enjoy hiking with my family (my husband, our two girls and our dog); the outdoors is my source of inspiration. I also enjoy discovering new things and for that reason, I always find a class to learn a new activity: creating mosaics, making pottery, ironworking… right now, I am exploring glass ornament construction. 

We’re delighted Dr. Sessoms has decided to plant her roots in Ohio’s thriving scientific community and hope you'll join us in welcoming her!