Microbial Chemical Ecology and Biocontrol

Dr. Seogchan Kang, Professor, in collaboration with Drs. Terrence Bell and Beth Gugino, seeks to recruit a microbial chemical ecology and biocontrol Ph.D. student.
Dr. Seogchan Kang | Credit: Seogchan Kang, Penn State

Dr. Seogchan Kang | Credit: Seogchan Kang, Penn State

Can you help meet the growing global demand for food, feed, and fiber without heavily relying on synthetic pesticides? Although their use has played a major role in enabling and sustaining the original Green Revolution, continuous heavy reliance on synthetic pesticides would not be sustainable.

Environment-friendly innovations are urgently needed to protect plant health without continuously degrading the environment, ecosystem services, and human health. The Kang Lab in collaboration with the Bell and Gugino labs seek to recruit a microbial chemical ecology and biocontrol Ph.D. student who will help enable such innovations by exploring how fungi interact with plants and plant-associated microbial communities through the secretion of diverse molecules, including volatile compounds (see Fig. 1), and how such interactions affect plant growth and health.

Through evolutionary arms races, strategic alliances, or combination of both, microbes have invented a bewildering array of strategies to interact with plants and other microbes. Some of these strategies have been applied as environment-friendly alternatives to synthetic pesticides. However, inconsistent efficacy in field trials has limited their application. A number of interconnected projects toward the goal of developing and deploying reliable and effective biocontrol strategies, customized for individual crops and production systems, are available for your thesis project.

You will be able to take multi-scale, ranging from metabolites and genes to ecosystem processes and field trials, and multi-disciplinary, including genomics, chemical ecology, biochemistry, molecular imaging, and genetics, approaches to study both how biocontrol microbes control plant diseases and why they fail under certain conditions. As articulated by Thomas Edison, “I can never find the things that work best until I know the things that don’t work,” without insights from both questions, biocontrol would continue to be like blindly shooting a target that is obstructed by a series of moving obstacles. We may occasionally hit the target, but we would not know what blocked the target in cases of failure and when it might be blocked again.

Actionable insights from your research will likely have broad and long-lasting impact on crop production, the environment, and human and ecosystem health. Several studies into overlooked, yet critical, chemical ecology processes that underpin fungal interactions with plants and other microbes in light of biocontrol have already begun. The highly interdisciplinary and novel nature of these studies will result in high-impact papers and offer diverse professional development opportunities. We will also support you in developing applications for internal and external grants and fellowships so that you can demonstrate your ability to secure funds for your own research. Collective experiences through your graduate education will help prepare you well, regardless of which career path you choose. If you desire more information about the nature and types of available projects, please contact Dr. Kang.

2015 Kang Lab Figure 1

Figure 1. Known and hypothesized roles of volatile compounds (VCs) in mediating organismal interactions within and across kingdoms. The double-headed arrows denote VC–mediated organismal interactions. Anthropogenic and biogenic VCs enter the surrounding atmosphere, potentially affecting the air quality. Soils function as both sources and sinks of VCs. Certain VCs produced by Plant Growth-Promoting Rhizobacteria (PGPR), such as 2,3-butanediol, induce plant growth and stress resistance.

Contact Information

Seogchan Kang, Ph.D.
  • Professor
Phone: 814-863-3846