The Tennessee Plant Research Center (PRC) was established in 2009 with the goal of bringing plant scientists together at the University of Tennessee. The PRC is currently run by co-directors Andreas Nebenführ, Biochemistry & Cellular and Molecular Biology Professor, and Meg Staton, Entomology and Plant Pathology Associate Professor.
The mission of the PRC is to nurture the community of plant biologists at UT with the goal of increasing the scope and impact of plant biology research on campus, while providing enhanced research experience to junior scientists, including undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral associates.
The PRC’s strategic plan focuses on activities to create community and shared experiences among faculty and trainees to foster collaboration. In Knoxville, university plant scientists are sited at the College of Arts and Sciences and the UT Institute of Agriculture. This physical separation combined with the traditional focus on basic research and applied agricultural research respectively in the two units has limited collaborations and translational research between groups in the past. However, now this can be overcome through the PRC.
Faculty can become members of the Center simply by request. Members are housed in several academic departments. Their expertise and research interests span from biochemical studies of ion homeostasis in plant cells to plant-pathogen interactions to mathematical modeling of plant ecology to the use of synthetic biology for more sustainable and productive bioenergy feedstocks – the gamut of plant biology.
The strategic plan includes the following activities:
- Colloquia throughout the academic year that include prominent invited speakers as well as internal UT faculty and Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists.
- Travel awards for students of member labs to present their research at national and international meetings.
- Pilot research grants to members or students and postdoctoral associates of member labs.
- Other ad hoc activities, such as retreats and picnics.
The PRC is generously funded by various UT units including the College of Arts and Sciences and various UT departments as well as UTIA AgResearch.