Remarks from department head Dr. Leland S. Pierson III
It’s an exciting day! I realize that many folks have been recognized already, but I also wish to thank all of our distinguished guests, especially Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp, Texas A&M President Michael Young, Vice-Chancellor and Dean, and Director of Texas A&M AgriLife Research Dr. Patrick Stover, and Dr. Jeff Hyde, Director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
We thank the University, COALS, Jill Bard, AgriLife, System Facilities, Planning and Construction, Randall Scott Architects and FLAD architects, and SpawGlass for their professional dedication to this project. From a personal perspective, I want to thank Chris Rhodan, Mike Webelhaus, Dan Brantner, Michael Campbell, Aaron Hodge, David DeLeon and Johnny Herrera. I have enjoyed our weekly interactions, and over the past four years I have gained great respect for the amount of effort it takes to plan, design, construct, and make functional a facility like this.
We thank Benjamin and Renee Knox for their support and their Centennial portrait hanging in our lobby. It beautifully represents Plant Pathology and Microbiology (PLPM) and Bioenvironmental Sciences (BESC).
I thank the PLPM faculty, students and especially the staff for their hard work and efforts, and we thank members of the BESC Professional Board for their continued support of our students and for attending, and thank you (audience) for being here with us!
Today represents the culmination of an effort begun in fall 2015. Plant Pathology and Microbiology is focused on understanding the genetic, molecular and physiological interactions between plants and their microbial community, or microbiome. Our motto is “Healthy Plants, Healthy Planet, Healthy People.” This simple message is even more relevant today as we must produce more food and fiber using less land, less water, and fewer agronomic inputs.
Plant breeding has selected incredible gains in productivity, but at the expense of the need for more agronomic inputs.
Plant pathogens (old and new) are introduced into TX continually via national and international commerce. These pathogens can and do cause devastating effects on agriculture.
Man has fought plant diseases for centuries. egs include the Irish potato famine in 1846. More recently, citrus greening (HLB), SOD, Xyella fastidiosa of grapes, olives and pecans, mycotoxins prod by Aspergillus and Fusarium sp. Recently, Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. vasoinfectum race 4 (FOV4) was found in Pima cotton near El Paso. Understanding the relationship between the microbial community and plants will reduce the demand for these inputs—saving farmers money while reducing undesirable environmental impacts. PLPM faculty perform research on a diversity of plant-microbe interactions– including plant immunity, biocontrol mechanisms, mechanisms of pathogenicity, molecular epidemiology, plant signaling, volatiles, mycotoxins, and biofuels.
PLPM researchers study plants, viruses, fungi, bacteria, phage, and nematodes.
Our PLPM graduate program trains students to develop new knowledge and methodologies for plant-microbe interactions. Because plants, unlike animals and humans, are not motile, imbalances in the plant microbial community result in reduced plant yields and lower food quality.
Analogous to studies of the human gut microbiome, our research is providing a better understanding of how the plant selects for members of its microbiome and how this influences crop health and the plant’s ability to resist abiotic and biotic stresses such as drought, climate variability, poor soils, and pathogens.
Our BESC undergraduate program prepares environmental professionals to be responsive to industry needs. Our majors enter careers in industry, gov’t, and law where they develop and implement solutions, including identification and remediation of environmental hazards, microbial threats, toxic wastes, and other ecosystem damages. One only has to look at the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey for evidence for the need for these professionals. Our BESC Professional Board plays a critical role in the mentoring and training of these students.
Our new PLPM building hosts 21 faculty members, including members of the Center for Phage Technology (CPT) and the Synthetic and Systems Biology Innovation Hub (SSBIH), and was designed to facilitate communication, interaction and collaboration. Our being located adjacent to the Institute for Plant Genomics and Biotechnology (IPGB), Soil and Crop Sciences, Horticultural Science, Entomology, and Biochemistry and Biophysics further strengthens these interactions.
The research wing of the new building is certified as a super-containment facility by the USDA-APHIS, enabling research on regulated plant pathogens of importance to Texas. These modern facilities, state-of-the-art growth chambers and rooftop APHIS-certified greenhouses will greatly increase our ability to compete to perform world-class research in plant pathology.
These facilities also are enhancing our student’s educational experiences, through the new PLPM teaching laboratories and the BESC Experiential Learning Laboratory. We also thank the Office of the Provost for support for this outstanding 300-seat 21st century lecture hall.
We look forward to continuing our service to the citizens of Texas (and the world) by addressing current threats and preparing for future agricultural and environmental threats to allow Texas to grow economically while maintaining environmental sustainability. Our faculty, students and staff members are looking forward to chatting with you.