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WSU Plant Scientists Earn National Ranking

Posted by cahnrs.webteam | February 7, 2007

Washington State University scientists conducting research on plants and animals are among the most productive in the nation, according to a survey measuring faculty scholarly productivity published recently in The Chronicle for Higher Education.

WSU’s plant sciences were ranked the fifth most productive in the United States. WSU’s zoology program ranked No.10 in the nation. The rankings place WSU plant scientists and zoologists in the very top tier of the approximately 7,300 doctoral programs around the country evaluated in the survey.

“This honor truly recognizes the breadth and depth of our plant science and zoology programs,” said James Petersen, WSU vice president for research. “Ranging from basic research in plant molecular sciences through the field application of new discoveries, these teams benefit science, Washington agriculture, energy and human health.”

Overall, WSU plant scientists ranked second in terms of number of journal articles published per faculty member in the category (only Berkeley ranked higher in that area) and third in the percentage of faculty whose work was cited by another work.

Ralph Cavalieri, associate dean of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences and director of the Agricultural Research Center, said, “This ranking confirms the quality, energy and intellect of our plant science faculty.”

Michael Griswold, dean of the WSU College of Sciences, agreed. ““Research in the plant sciences is clearly a strength at WSU and in the College of Sciences.” he said.

Cavalieri and Griswold emphasized that many have contributed to the overall strength of WSU plant sciences programs and cited several examples of work by plant science faculty at WSU that have had global impact.

In CAHNRS, Professor Norman G. Lewis, director of WSU’s interdisciplinary Institute for Biological Chemistry, focuses much of his research on how land-based plants, those with a structural vascular apparatus produce lignins. While lignins help give plants and trees rigidity, they must also be broken down or eliminated in order to use them for production of paper, fuel and other bioproducts.

Professor John Browse researches the bioengineering of plants — such as soybeans, canola and flax — to produce oils with lower levels of saturated omega-6 fatty acids, while increasing levels of the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Related research also focuses on engineering plants to produce more sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels and petrochemicals.

Professor Joe Poovaiah has discovered how to identify and manipulate the gene controlling plant size. He also is conducting research on developing non-leguminous plants – such as wheat and corn – that fix their own nitrogen, which would greatly reduce the need for financially and environmentally costly fertilizers.

In the College of Sciences, Professor Gerald Edwards works on the effects of environmental stress and global climate change on carbon acquisition and usage in photosynthesis of higher plants, with current research focusing on a novel type of photosynthesis. The recently discovered mechanism may be instrumental in engineering crops, such as rice, to produce greater yields, especially under climate changes occurring with global warming.

Associate Professor Mechthild Tegeder is interested in how pea, soybean and other plants acquire, distribute and use nitrogen, which is an essential nutrient to plant growth and survival but also for production of seeds with high amounts of nutritional proteins. One goal is to generate crop plants or plant products of enhanced protein quality for human food.

The WSU Zoology program was ranked No. 10 among the rated schools in research productivity. The Zoology program is housed in the School of Biological Sciences in the College of Sciences. “We are especially pleased to be recognized for our research productivity,” said Gary Thorgaard, director of the school, “given that our unit is also very active and successful in teaching and student advising. Research contributions of our younger faculty have been particularly notable.

“Our research and teaching efforts are closely linked,” Thorgaard added. “Our faculty members have been very successful in obtaining support from the National Science Foundation, including major research equipment grants and grants for cooperative training and instructional projects such as projects for training graduate students in biological and cultural evolution together with the WSU Department of Anthropology, and for training undergraduates in mathematical biology together with the Department of Mathematics.”

The survey published in The Chronicle is based on results of the Faculty Scholarly Productivity index, a new, annual index of graduate programs. Partly financed by the State University of New York at Stony Brook and produced by for-profit Academic Analytics, the survey rates faculty members’ scholarly output at nearly 7,300 doctoral programs around the country. It examines the number of book and journal articles published by each program’s faculty as well as journal citations, awards, honors and grants received. The most recent index is based on data from 2005.

Find the study online at http://chronicle.com/stats/productivity.

Read other news about WSU’s national ranking.