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NIFA awards grant for microbial stress tolerance research

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Posted: May 31, 2019

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) recently awarded Kevin Hockett $453,000 to assist in research focusing on how microbes tolerate distinct stresses.
Kevin Hockett

Kevin Hockett

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) recently awarded Kevin Hockett $453,000 to assist in research focusing on how microbes tolerate distinct stresses.

The grant will allow Hockett, an assistant professor of microbial ecology in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Lloyd Huck Early Career Professor in the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, to identify the genes that contribute to protein toxin and antibiotic stress tolerance, determine at the cellular level what makes a stress tolerant cell distinct from a non-tolerant cell, and test how important these types of stress tolerance are in survival and proliferation within a plant environment. 

This project will result in a new understanding of the prevalence and significance of lethal stress tolerance in bacterial plant pathogens, an area of study that is both critically important but currently underappreciated. Research will also identify how this stress tolerance is achieved, which could lead to strategies to predict and manipulate the ability of both detrimental and beneficial microbes to survive in agricultural environments. 

Not only will this project provide knowledge on microbial stress tolerance, but also will be of benefit to consumers at large. Reducing lost yields due to plant diseases will result in lower production costs and in return, a lower cost for the consumer. The decrease in microbial dormancy will also result in reduced environmental exposure to antibiotics and chemicals, while increasing access to affordable organic produce.

Hockett will collaborate with Lindsay Triplett at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station on this research, who is a co-investigator on the grant.