My research program focuses on crop mineral nutrition and plant responses environmental abiotic stresses in the soil. My research approach involves the interdisciplinary application of methodologies from molecular biology, genomics, genetics, biochemistry and plant physiology to identify genes that control important plant traits related to mineral nutrient acquisition and abiotic stress tolerance, in order to facilitate crop improvement in these areas.
There are three major projects currently underway: 1. Research on fundamental aspects of plant mineral nutrient transport with emphasis on improving the accumulation of nutritionally important mineral nutrients in plants (Fe, Zn) and minimizing the entry of toxic heavy metals (Cd, Pb) into the food chain. 2. The phytoremediation of heavy metal contaminated soils, primarily from the perspective of elucidating fundamental mechanisms of heavy metal transport, tolerance and accumulation. This research focuses on the heavy metal (Zn and Cd) hyperaccumulator, Thlaspi caerulescens, as a model plant system for studying heavy metal accumulation in plants. 3. A major program in the laboratory deals with mechanisms plants employ to tolerate acid soils, which comprise up to 50% of the world's arable lands. This work involves identifying genes and the associated physiological mechanisms that confer tolerance to toxic levels of aluminum on acid soils, and the ability to function under conditions of low phosphorus availability on acid soils (P efficiency). This project involves an integration of physiological investigations of Al tolerance mechanisms with the molecular mapping and cloning of Al tolerance genes in important crop plants (maize, and sorghum) as well as in Arabidopsis.
I am the Director of the USDA lab on campus and thus am an Adjunct Professor in Plant Biology and also Crop and soil Sciences. However, teaching is very important to me and I created and have taught the graduate course in plant mineral nutrition (BioPl642) for the past 20 years. I also have served as major professor for 13 PhD students during my time at Cornell, and have mentored a number of udnergraduates.