Destructive pathogens, pests, and weeds continue to spread in the face of increased global commerce and climate change, while current agricultural practices strain the planet’s fresh-water supply and add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

There is a pressing need for research to promote safe, sustainable production of food, feed, and fiber. To meet this need, Virginia Tech has created the Translational Plant Sciences Center, which will focus on the development and translation of basic plant research discoveries into technologies and practices that improve agriculture.

“Climate change and growing populations are placing extreme pressure on agriculture and forestry that, even now, do not meet global needs,” said Guillaume Pilot, founding director of the newly launched Translational Plant Sciences Center at Virginia Tech and an associate professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture and the Life Sciences.

The Translational Plant Sciences Center has a vital role to play in meeting these global challenges.

The vision of the new center is to work in partnership with academic colleges and units to elevate Virginia Tech as a hub of discovery and application for sustainable production of food, feed, and biomaterials.

“The innovative Virginia Tech faculty working in plant sciences, agriculture, forestry, and their excitement for the new Translational Plant Sciences Center is inspiring," said Matt Hulver, executive director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute. "The creation of this new center is essential as climate change continues to threaten the environment and human condition.”

To achieve their goals, the Translational Plant Sciences Center will catalyze creative collaborations, nurture cross-disciplinary communities within Virginia Tech, and establish new partnerships in the public and private sectors. 

“It is really exciting to see the establishment of the Translational Plant Sciences Center at Virginia Tech,” said Dan Sui, vice president for research and innovation. “The center will not only elevate Virginia Tech as a hub of discovery and application for sustainable production of food, feed, and biomaterials through cutting-edge convergence research, but also serves as a catalyst for creative collisions and nurturing transdisciplinary communities within Virginia Tech. I am confident that the center will facilitate Virginia Tech’s ongoing efforts to establish new external partnerships in both the public and private sectors, organize interdisciplinary teams to pursue new sources of funding, and support the recruitment and retention of world-class faculty and students.”

The new center will be administratively established in the Fralin Life Science Institute and include a growing number of faculty participants from five colleges and six schools and departments.

“The immediate objectives of the Translational Plant Sciences Center are to galvanize the center with an enhanced leadership team, develop a plan for a plant biotechnology resource, and grow a more diverse and inclusive community across and beyond the Blacksburg campus by specifically targeting the Agricultural Research and Extension Centers, new partner institutions, and industry groups, and continued strong collaboration with colleges and units,” said Pilot.

The translational plant sciences (TPS) faculty members have been interacting productively for over 16 years. The TPS program was initiated in 2004 with seed funding from the Fralin Life Science Institute and the VT Advance Program. 

The success of the program was further recognized in 2010 with an interdisciplinary graduate education program (IGEP) award in the inaugural competition. TPS faculty have also built positive momentum in external funding and peer reviewed publications as well as national and international awards and invitations for faculty to serve in a variety of prestigious capacities. 

“A hallmark of the translational plant sciences program was its collaborative nature within VT and on the national and international scale. This has led to an increasing number of large, multi-investigator grants and collaborative publications in top journals,” said Pilot.

The Translational Plant Sciences Center IGEP is currently an exemplar collaborative community made up of research groups in SPES, biological sciences, biochemistry, forest resources and environmental conservation, and biological systems engineering.

Translationa Plant Science Graphic in the form of a Flower

Pilot and his advisory team plan to grow the IGEP to train the next generation of plant scientists to tackle the global challenges faced by agriculture and forestry.

The Translational Plant Sciences Center IGEP will help their graduates continue to secure research and teaching positions in academia, industry, and government.