Department of Plant Science

Offering Penn State degrees in agroecology, golf course turfgrass management, horticulture, landscape contracting, and turfgrass science.

Plant Science News

Dan Stearns, J. Franklin Styer Professor Emeritus, left, is congratulated by Roger Phelps, member of the National Association of Landscape Professionals' Academic Excellence Foundation Board. Stearns was named Outstanding Educator of the Year.
Stearns receives Educator of the Year award from national landscape association
April 24, 2019
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Dan Stearns, J. Franklin Styer Professor Emeritus, who served as the inaugural professor and program coordinator of the landscape contracting program in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, recently was named Outstanding Educator of the Year by the National Association of Landscape Professionals during its annual conference in Fort Collins, Colorado. The organization represents an industry of nearly 1 million landscape, lawn care, irrigation and tree care experts. The award recognizes educators who have been passionate supporters and tireless ambassadors of the landscape industry; who have contributed time, energy and enthusiasm to their programs; and who show dedication to the education of future industry leaders. “Dan Stearns exemplifies what it means to be an engaged and committed educator,” said Erin Connolly, professor and head of the college’s Department of Plant Science. “He gave his best to students, instilling in them the knowledge and confidence needed to make their mark in the industry. Those students — and Penn State — have been enriched by his talents and genuine interest in elevating others.”
For this study, at the University's Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center, researchers grew two nearly identical lines of sorghum.
Insect-deterring sorghum compounds may be eco-friendly pesticide
April 5, 2019
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Compounds produced by sorghum plants to defend against insect feeding could be isolated, synthesized and used as a targeted, nontoxic insect deterrent, according to researchers who studied plant-insect interactions that included field, greenhouse and laboratory components. The researchers examined the role of sorghum chemicals called flavonoids —specifically 3-deoxyflavonoid and 3-deoxyanthocyanidins — in providing resistance against the corn leaf aphid, a tiny blue-green insect that sucks sap from plants. To defend against pests like the aphids, sorghum has evolved defenses that includes biosynthesis of secondary metabolites, including flavonoids to poison the pests.
Rachel Milliron, a master's degree student when the study was conducted, now a Penn State Extension educator specializing in agronomy, identified multiple strategies that farmers can use to produce forage with fall manure and protect water quality.
Manure application changes with winter crop can cut nitrogen loss, boost profits
April 3, 2019
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Dairy farmers in the Northeast can improve water quality and boost the profitability of their operations by changing the timing and method of applying manure to their fields in the fall, along with planting rye as a cover crop between corn crops — or by double-cropping rye and corn, according to Penn State researchers. In a two-year study at Penn State's Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center, researchers compared the effects on nitrogen conservation of three field-management options that could be implemented by farmers, to determine whether new strategies would yield environmental and crop-production benefits.
The mystery involved a spontaneous gene mutation that causes red pigments to show up in various corn plant tissues for a few generations and then disappear in subsequent progeny. Image: Surinder Chopra Research Group/Penn State
Unraveling of 58-year-old corn gene mystery may have plant-breeding implications
January 18, 2019
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In discovering a mutant gene that "turns on" another gene responsible for the red pigments sometimes seen in corn, researchers solved an almost six-decades-old mystery with a finding that may have implications for plant breeding in the future. The culmination of more than 20 years of work, the effort started when, in 1997, Surinder Chopra, professor of maize genetics at Penn State, received seeds from a mutant line of corn. At the time, Chopra was a postdoctoral scholar at Iowa State University, and he brought the research with him when he joined the Penn State faculty in 2000.