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Rice, Biofuels, Biosystems Engineering

Posted by | February 4, 2009

More Rice, Please

WSU Regents Professor Gerald Edwards of the School of Biological Sciences has received $335,000 over three years for ambitious research designed to re-engineer photosynthesis in rice. The goal of the international project is rice that will produce 50 percent more grain while using less water and less fertilizer.

About half of the world’s population eats rice as a staple crop. Increases in rice harvests will help billions of people have more adequate nutrition.

Rice belongs to a group of plants that use C3 photosynthesis. Such plants evolved relatively early in Earth history. A few later plants – including corn – use a much more efficient biochemical pathway for photosynthesis known as C4. The project aims to give the benefits of the C4 pathway to rice, a C3 plant.

Edwards is a member of the C4 Rice Consortium being led by the International Rice Research Institute and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Scientists at several universities are collaborating to pursue the goal of substantially improving rice harvests. Researchers at Yale, Oxford and half a dozen other institutions are part of the project, with a total of $11 million invested in the work by the Gates Foundation.

Edwards is an internationally recognized authority on rice. He pursues his research in the rice fields of Asia as well as in laboratories in the United States. He has been on the WSU faculty since 1981.

–E. Kirsten Peters, WSU College of Science

For more information on Edwards’ research, please visit:

WSU Regents Prfessor Gerald Edwards

WSU Regents Professor Gerald Edwards

WSU Wins Determined, Talented Graduate Student

When WSU graduate student Laura Wayne was 4 years old, she sat her mother down and said, “I want to go to kindergarten.” She had felt envious, she says, when her two older brothers returned from school every day with homework.

The Laura Wayne of today, a self-motivated and enthusiastic 23-year-old, has never lost that independent streak, nor the desire to learn. As a doctoral student in molecular plant sciences, she has more than enough homework now. She collaborates with John Browse, Regents professor of biochemistry and plant physiology at WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry.

Wayne focuses on developing bioproducts — specifically, plant-derived industrial oils. She first uses a model organism called Arabidopsis to investigate how to produce castor oil in a more suitable agricultural plant, such as canola. Through this research, Wayne hopes to identify renewable sources for domestic oil production that will “benefit the environment, boost jobs and enhance the overall economy.”

This intelligent, energetic young woman had her pick of universities, including Purdue and UC Davis, in which to pursue graduate studies. Wayne chose WSU “because of its outstanding research and friendly atmosphere.”

“I feel comfortable approaching professors I’ve never met before and asking them questions, which is important to drive research forward,” she says.

She is a National Institutes of Health protein biotechnology trainee and graduate student scholar award recipient who truly appreciates working in the laboratory with Browse.

“He encourages self-direction,” she says, “and allows for independent thinking by asking pointed questions. He’s laid back, approachable and full of brilliant ideas, which motivates us further.”

–Cindy Hollenbeck, Graduate School

For a longer version of this article, please visit:

Graduate student Laura Wayne

Graduate student Laura Wayne

Fellowships Focus on Training Leaders

The USDA awarded more than $3.4 million to train the next generation of policy makers, researchers and educators in the food and agricultural sciences. Of that amount, WSU received $258,000 in the form of a National Needs Fellowship grant. The WSU award was equal to the other largest grant, which went to U.C. Davis.

The grant will support three Ph.D. students for three to four years. The program targets a number of areas short in expertise, including agricultural systems engineering, agricultural management and economics, and sustainable sciences.

Markus Flury, professor of soil physics; Joan Wu, associate professor of biological systems engineering; Claudio Stockle, chair of biosystems engineering; and Ray Huffaker and Phil Wandschneider, professors in the School of Economic Sciences, are actively seeking suitable candidates for the multi-disciplinary doctoral graduate fellowship program. They developed WSU’s proposal, which focuses on sustainable development and natural resource management.

Research can be done in any of the three departments, but the main focus is biological systems engineering and economics, according to Flury. “Fellows will have a lot of leeway to choose research,” he said. “There aren’t many strings attached regarding the research topics.”

For more information, please visit:

WSU soil physicist Markus Flury

WSU soil physicist Markus Flury