New IPG Director

Bob Sharp named director of Mizzou's Interdisciplinary Plant Group

Robert Sharp, professor of plant science at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, was recently named director of the MU Interdisciplinary Plant Group.

Robert (Bob) Sharp.

The IPG is a community of faculty, students and professionals pursuing novel, creative and transformative ideas in plant biology from a range of scientific disciplines. Established in 1981, the IPG is designed to provide a flexible research environment that transcends traditional departmental boundaries by facilitating the sharing of ideas and resources among faculty members and students, and by creating opportunities for collaboration through interdisciplinary meetings, seminars, and an annual symposium. The IPG is comprised of 54 faculty-led research teams, representing the divisions of Biochemistry, Biological Sciences and Plant Sciences and the departments of Forestry and Computer Science.  Several members are also affiliated with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) Plant Genetics Research Unit.

“The overarching research theme of the IPG focuses on understanding how plants respond to changing environments,” Sharp said. “Within this theme, IPG research projects can be grouped by studies that focus on genetic diversity, on developmental mechanisms, and on biotic and abiotic interactions.”

Sharp earned his PhD in plant physiology from the University of Lancaster, UK.   His research at MU addresses the physiological mechanisms that determine plant growth responses to water deficits with an emphasis on root growth adaptation.

CAFNR plant researchers Robert Sharp and Felix Fritschi in front of one of the drought simulators. The simulator allows the investigators to test the responses of soybean and corn varieties to various stages of water stress. When funding allows, a network of drought simulators will be built around Missouri to test crops important to the state's regional economies.

Sharp said that root growth is less inhibited than the above ground shoot growth under drying soil conditions, and this response is considered an important adaptive strategy to facilitate continued water uptake. His lab interacts with geneticists, biochemists and molecular biologists in an interdisciplinary effort to understand the regulation of growth under water-limited conditions and, ultimately, to improve crop performance in drought-prone environments.

“The diversity of approaches being pursued and plants being studied as well as the interactive nature of the group enhance the IPG’s opportunity to design unique solutions to current problems as well as pressing problems yet to be recognized,” said John Walker, outgoing IPG director and adjunct professor of plant science at MU.  “As a part of the Food for the 21st Century Program at MU, one of the goals of the IPG is to generate the knowledge base needed to meet the increasing needs for food, fiber and health for the future.”

The IPG is recognized as one of the top plant research and training programs in the nation, Walker said. In May 2008, a Blue Ribbon Team of scientists concluded that, “using any metric of success, the IPG is an exceptional program of research excellence … that has succeeded in promoting excellence in research and teaching at MU.”