Quantifying Crop Biomechanics Across Plant Lifespans National Science Foundation Award #2040346
Erin Sparks, University of Delaware
This grant will support research in fundamental crop biomechanics, which will enhance basic scientific knowledge and contribute to the future of agricultural sustainability. In agriculture, unpredictable severe storms can cause significant crop damage. This includes crop loss due to mechanical failure. This mechanical failure is called lodging, and can be the outcome of stem breaking or plant uprooting. Research on crop mechanical failure has been limited by uncontrolled and unpredictable weather patterns. Instead, tools have recently been developed to measure plant mechanical properties and link these measurements to plant resilience and lodging-resistance. This work will quantify plant mechanics over the lifespan of a maize (corn) plant, and determine the cellular signals and architectural features that influence plant mechanics. Understanding how plant mechanics are established provides a foundation for the development of mechanically resilient crops. This will enhance the future of agriculture, which is a significant portion of the U.S. economy.
This project addresses the problem of multi-scale signal perception in shaping crop biomechanics across plant lifespans. A major knowledge gap exists in understanding lifespan-related biomechanical adaption and mechanobiological response of crop plants when subject to dynamic forces (e.g., wind). This project tests the hypothesis that lifespan-related changes to plant flexural stiffness are due to cellular-level mechanoreception of dynamic forces interacting with growing plant architectures. To address this hypothesis, the researchers will quantify changes in maize flexural stiffness over lifespans and determine if there is a role of cellular-level mechanosensing and plant architecture in establishing lifespan flexural stiffness. Overall, the research in this project will link multi-scale crop biomechanics and provide a foundation for future crop improvement. This project is jointly funded by the Biomechanics & Mechanobiology program and the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).