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Department of Horticulture and Crop Science


Multidisciplinary Research

Faculty from the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science frequently partner with faculty and staff in other departments, other universities, and with industry stakeholders to answer critical questions.  Here are just some of the multidisciplinary projects our faculty are collaborating on.

PENRA: Program of Excellence in Natural Rubber Alternatives 

The PENRA project is currently investigating Russian Dandelion, Taraxacum kok-saghyz (also known as TKS) as an alternative to natural rubber from the Brazilian Rubber Tree Hevea brasiliensis.  It is a multidisciplinary collaboration between faculty in the Horticulture and Crop Science Department, Food Agriculture and Biological Engineering Department, other universities, USDA, and industry.  Faculty in HCS work on selecting and maintaining a quality seedbank of TKS seeds, domesticating the dandelion for widescale production, optimizing crop management for a TKS crop, explore harvesting and processing strategies for extracting rubber from roots, improve rubber output, potential uses of by-product and inulin after rubber extraction, and  TKS rubber commercialization.  The PENRA project objectives include: domesticate and commercialize domestic sources of natural rubber, identify and develop processes, uses, and markets for co-products, jointly develop R&D initiatives that lead to domestic natural rubber alternatives, and seek public and private partnerships.  


CAPS: The Center for Applied Plant Sciences

The center's goal is to facilitate faculty collaborations that will translate basic biological principles into applications that will revolutionize plant sciences. It is an inter-collegiate collaboration between the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Food, Ag, and Environmental Sciences.  Multiple HCS faculty are collaborators in the CAPs program including its director, Dr. Erich Grotewold.  There are many ongoing multidisciplinary research projects that are included under the CAPS umbrella, but the center's mission is to find practical solutions to challenges within four main areas: 1) photosynthesis and carbon fixation, 2) biomass and bioproducts, 3) crop improvement and functional food, and 4) plant-microbe interactions.  Listed below are some of the CAP projects that HCS faculty are involved in.  Some projects involving HCS faculty include:

  • Drs. David Mackey, Eric Stockinger in conjunction with faculty in other departments- "Deveoping Vectors as Tools to Rapidly and Flexibly Alter Plant Phenotype" 
  • Drs. Josh Blakeslee & Matt Kleinhenz in conjunction with faculty in plant pathology "Microbial Bioproducts Scale-up and Applications"


Plant Domestication and the Eovlution of Plant-Associated Organisms

Drs. Leah McHale, and Kristin Mercer work in conjunction with faculty in entomology and plant pathology and other collaborators. 


Mental Models Research

Mental model research focuses on discovering and overcoming social and cultural barriers in communication between experts in their fields and audiences.  Mental models can help develop deeper understandings of a target audience's preferred learning styles, beliefs, perceptions, and attitudes towards a specific topic, such as weed management or food safety, and their feelings towards the experts who are trying to educate them on said topics.  Misperceptions and misinformation are often a route cause of poor communication.  With mental models, researchers hope to find new information based on interviews and surveys to help better communicate information to those who can benefit from it.  Research teams in which HCS faculty are involved include biologists, extension educators, social scientists, economists, and other advisors in an interdisciplinary effort to improve communication to farmers about topics such as ecological weed management or good agricultural practices on the farm.