‘Superplant’ seminar marks growing WSU‑Germany research collaboration

Plant scientists in the U.S. and Germany are partnering to exchange ideas that could transform agriculture, through student exchange and a newly launched seminar series.

Plant scientists at Washington State University and in Germany will launch a new research collaboration through a series of virtual talks about advances that help feed and sustain our world, starting Tuesday, May 4.

The WSU-Germany partnership developed over the last several years to support the exchange of ideas and students and now includes a biweekly series of seminars delivered by pairs of WSU faculty and their counterparts at Germany’s CEPLAS, the Cluster of Excellence on Plant Sciences.

WSU scientists Mechthild Tegeder, Herbert L. Eastlick Distinguished Professor in the School of Biological Sciences, and Helmut Kirchhoff, professor in the Institute of Biological Chemistry, are leading efforts to exchange graduate students with CEPLAS members, including the University of Cologne, the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne, and Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) program, the European Union student exchange Erasmus Program, and the German Research Foundation.

“The WSU-CEPLAS consortium has the potential for scientific breakthroughs in plant sciences that can pave the way for innovative solutions to the agricultural needs of the 21th century,” Kirchhoff said.

“Direct cooperation between German and U.S. scientists and collaborative education of our scholars helps expand society’s knowledge about beneficial crops,” Tegeder said. “Interdisciplinary research experiences in Germany can also train WSU students on how to start, establish, and cultivate scientific collaboration, which will benefit them in their professional careers, make them more marketable for research occupations, and sustain our regional and national agricultural industries and economies.”

Bringing together complementary expertise and renowned scientists, the partnership aims to build and share deep knowledge in plant sciences, ultimately helping improve crop plants and production systems, Tegeder said. Participating students and scientists will increase their competency in areas such as environmentally resilient photosynthesis and metabolism, and enhanced interactions with beneficial microbes and defenses against pathogens. The project will also facilitate sabbaticals for WSU faculty to promote their professional development.

The first live talk, “The Food Fix: Superplants, Microbe Sidekicks and Nutrient Heroes,” is at 9:00 a.m. PST on May 4, and features Tegeder as well as Alga Zuccaro of the Institute for Plant Sciences at the University of Cologne.

With global food systems under increased pressure, Tegeder and Zuccaro will discuss how microbes are being transformed into plant warrior sidekicks, and how understanding the plant-nutrient relationship can boost crop yields. This seminar and live Q&A is part of the University of Cologne-sponsored “Transatlantic Tandem Talks,” and marks the 10th anniversary of that University’s New York branch.

Additional WSU-CEPLAS seminars are planned on May 18, June 1, 15 and 29, and July 13 and 27, 2021, featuring WSU experts in biological chemistry, plant physiology and pathology, and crop sciences. Online resources for the series are in progress, and will be shared by WSU’s College of Arts and Sciences and College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences.

This seminar series is free; register to attend online.

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