OSU researcher excels in the lab and the classroom
Agricultural producers in Oklahoma, and surrounding states, have recently struggled through two extreme drought years. Researchers at Oklahoma State University's Biobased Products and Energy Center are looking for solutions to help crop production during these trying times.
"We are increasingly facing long drought and heat spells here in Oklahoma and also in the rest of the world," said Mali Mahalingam, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at OSU. "Findings from our research will provide rational targets for engineering plants that can thrive well in the face of global climate change."
Mahalingam and his team of researchers are focusing on two major objectives: understanding the functions of key genes involved in plant stress signaling and developing a gene inventory for switchgrass. Funding is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Oklahoma's National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research program and the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. His research team also collaborates with the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.
"Drought stress and the air pollutant ozone are the main abiotic stressors we currently focus on. Both of these factors are important in the context of global climate change," he said. "We use next generation sequencing technologies to identify genes expressed in different tissues of switchgrass."
Identifying key regulatory genes involved in important biomass associated traits, such as tillering, will provide valuable biomarkers for the switchgrass breeding program.
"These expressed genes can be developed into biomarkers for identifying high tillering lines at a very early stage during development," said Mahalingam. "This will help in reducing the cost and accelerate the pace of developing of high yielding switchgrass cultivars."
Mahalingam not only has an impact on agricultural producers through his research at OSU, but also on the students in his classes.
"One of the greatest delights of being in academia is the interaction with students," he said. "During the last nine years I have had great pleasure in mentoring six graduate students and more than 15 undergraduate students in my laboratory."
It was those very students that nominated and recommended him for the Phoenix Award for Outstanding Faculty Member, which is an entirely student-led award from the OSU Graduate and Professional Student Government Association.
"I really feel honored to be the recipient of this award," said Mahalingam. "It is really an inspiring moment when you are nominated and recommended by your students for the Phoenix Award."
His teaching efforts have earned the attention and respect of his students, while his research continues to open the eyes of agricultural producers around the country.