The School of Plant Sciences is a vigorous, cutting-edge, and comprehensive academic unit of the University of Arizona, whose scientists are devoted to the study of plants, the organisms that underpin the survival of terrestrial life. Research programs within the School examine how plants grow, how they respond to their environment, how they evolved, how they can be manipulated, and their fungal, bacterial, and viral interactions. These studies are done at various levels -- from the chemical reactions and molecules fundamental to all life, to the roles plants play in ecosystems, whether controlled or under natural conditions. Plants are also studied from the viewpoint of basic research, from the viewpoint of applied research, including crop production, protection, and improvement, and from the viewpoint of addressing directed societal goals, such as biofuels, enhanced nutrition, and the discovery of biomedicinal compounds.Plants, arguably, are the most important group of living organisms, since, without the energy conversion mechanism provided by photosynthesis, life as we know it would not be possible on the Earth. Plants are fundamental to all aspects of our existence; they provide the oxygen we breathe, the nutrition we consume, the fossil fuels we utilize, and the infrastructure we inhabit. Given the growth of the human population, and the adverse effects of this growth on the environment, the importance of research and training in the Plant Sciences has never been more critical.
The School was formally constituted in 2008 from the Department of Plant Sciences, which was formed in 1974 as an amalgamation of the Departments of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, and incorporated the Department of Plant Pathology in 2006. The School currently comprises 60 faculty, 30 postdoctoral associates, 38 technical support staff, 10 administrative support staff, and 25 graduate students. The undergraduate major currently enrolls 42 students, with an additional 18 undergraduates pursuing a minor degree in Plant Sciences
Faculty laboratories are located in the Marley, Forbes, and Keating Buildings, on the Main Campus of the University of Arizona, at the Campbell Avenue farm complex, in north-central Tucson, and at two field stations, the Maricopa Agricultural Research Center, and the Yuma Agricultural Center. The current School Director is Dr. Karen Schumaker.
Faculty, postdoctoral associates, technicians, and students in the School of Plant Sciences are active in many research and training areas, the majority involving vascular plants. Research activities include model plant species, standard commodity crops, species native to the desert southwest, as well as agents pathogenic to plants. Research approaches include activities in regulated environments, laboratory-based investigations, and field-trials, and research activities cover a number of disciplines, broadly directed toward addressing basic and applied questions in agriculture, of relevance locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Questions in basic research biology include: How are different genes expressed in different cell types? What is the green plant ‘tree of life’ and how do we best estimate it? How do genomes evolve following duplication? What is the diversity of genome sizes in plants, and how is this regulated? What is the conrribution of epigenetics to trait inheritance, and how can this be employed in crop improvement? Applied questions include: How can plants be more efficiently produced, and with higher yields and with limiting inputs? What novel crops can be deployed to economic advantage in the desert southwest?
Species under active study include major crops, such as maize, rice, tomato and other vegetables, and model species, including Arabidopsis thaliana, novel and specialty crops (Miscanthus, switch grass), and species of local importance (Guayule, sweet sorghum). Faculty are extensively involved in regional, national, and international collaborations. Disciplines range from plant growth and development, genomics, genetics and epigenetics, biochemistry and physiology, crop management and production, responses to abiotic and biotic stress, ecology, evolution and systematics, and bioinformatics and systems biology. Faculty are developing novel experimental platforms to monitor plants at the level of cells, subcellular structures, tissues, organs and populations.
Extension faculty are responsive to the immediate needs of the Arizona agricultural sector, focusing on a number of crops that are central to the Arizona economy, including cotton, citrus, winter vegetables, and grains, and dealing with issues associated with optimal production practises, including responses to biotic and abiotic stresses.
Teaching activities within the School cover a wide-ranging curriculum, designed to provide depth and breadth of knowledge to majors and non-major undergraduate students, and to graduate students pursuing MS and PhD degrees. Faculty also actively participate in interdisciplinary research training groups within the University of Arizona.
In the face of global challenges to increase the productivity and sustainability of agricultural and urban environments, especially in semi-arid regions, the School of Plant Sciences has developed a series of short- and long-term objectives to strengthen our educational, research and outreach activities.