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Crop Sciences


August 2021

Welcome Back from Department Head Adam Davis

Dear Crop Sciences community,

I am delighted to welcome you back to the University of Illinois campus. I have missed seeing your faces, hearing your voices and have missed the energy and vitality that you bring with you. As some of you return to familiar spots and others are seeing this beautiful campus for the first time, I’d like to ask you to pause for a moment of reflection.

We are living in an extraordinary time, one which highlights how individual actions combine in ways that create societal and global impacts. Springtime vaccination campaigns gave us a brief respite of normalcy, sharing special occasions and hugs with friends and family, enjoying the simple pleasure of impromptu conversations the hall. Now, as indoor masking returns with the rapid spread of the delta variant, it’s up to all of us to act in ways that protect each other’s physical and mental health. Following campus public health guidelines is an important way that you can contribute, but I would ask that you consider going a step further by taking some time each day to connect with others around you, making sure that they know you care. Find an outdoor spot to chat or walk. Send a kind note. Pay attention to how others are doing, and let them know you’re there to help if they need it.

Summer 2021 was also indelibly marked by the harbingers of global change. We all saw the images of wildfires, extreme heat events, droughts, and floods in unexpected places. These changes are disturbing, but I want to stress the importance of viewing them as an opportunity to engage, not cause for despair and paralysis. The 6th report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was sobering, but also a reminder that we have the power to shape our future.

As members of the Crop Sciences department, you are well-positioned to have an outsized impact in this regard. With over 50% of earth’s habitable land area managed in plant and animal agriculture, this represents one of the largest management levers that we have at our disposal to shape a better future. Please know that what you study, and what you do with it matters. Be proud to be a scholar of plant and soil science in a department with a proud history of agricultural innovation to meet the challenges of the moment. Our world needs what you do more than ever.

I wish you a productive and healthy academic year.

With gratitude,



CPSC in the News

  Caption goes here

When agricultural weeds evolve resistance to herbicides, they do it in one of two ways. In target-site resistance, a tiny mutation in the plant’s genetic code means the chemical no longer fits in the protein it’s designed to attack. In non-target-site resistance, the plant deploys a whole slew of enzymes that detoxify the chemical before it can cause harm.

Target-site resistance is easy for scientists. They know what the target protein is, which means they can look directly at the genetic code to figure out the mutation responsible. But for non-target-site resistance, it’s a guessing game. Researchers can sometimes tell what class of enzymes detoxifies the chemical, but they know next to nothing about what genes code for those enzymes. In other words, non-target-site resistance is a black box.

A University of Illinois study is the first to open that box in a new way, identifying gene regions responsible for non-target-site herbicide resistance in waterhemp.

“We used a genetic mapping approach with the reference genome for waterhemp, a species that can cause yield losses upwards of 70% in corn and is resistant to seven herbicide modes of action,” says Pat Tranel, Crop Sciences professor and associate head and co-author on the study. “We were able to narrow it down to two regions of the genome, or about 60 genes.” Read more here.


When he thinks about where he’ll be in five to 10 years, recent University of Illinois graduate Austin Parish sees himself disrupting the agriculture industry. In a good way.

“Right now, our only limitation in ag is how big we can think. I'm excited to be working alongside startups to bring more data and technology than ever to disrupt the plant biotechnology space,” he says.

Parish’s work at the Illinois AgTech Accelerator within Research Park at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is a natural fit for the Crop Sciences graduate, who chose a concentration in plant biotechnology. During the program, he dove deep into plant breeding and genetics, genomics, molecular biology, plant physiology, bioinformatics, and statistical analysis techniques in support of plant improvement. Starting this fall, plant biotechnology will be a standalone major in the department. Learn more and enroll now.

“We are now offering plant biotechnology as a major for a couple of reasons,” says Adam Davis, professor and department head.

“There is growing demand for plant scientists who can help solve problems such as improving the ability of plants to protect themselves from pests and pathogens, and increasing the efficiency of plant resource use (water, nutrients, sunlight) to balance productivity with environmental sustainability,” Davis says.

Sarah Hind, assistant professor in the department and co-creator of the new major, emphasizes just how promising the job market is for plant biotechnology graduates.

“According to recent reports, there are more than 1.74 million bioscience-related jobs in the U.S., representing an increase of almost 19% since 2001. More than 85,000 of these jobs are located here in Illinois,” she says. “And according to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment opportunities in life science occupations are projected to grow 7% during the next decade.” Read more here.


Plants use sunlight to generate their food through photosynthesis. When the sun rises each morning, plants must prepare themselves to receive nutrients from the sunlight, which takes time. Decreasing the prep time in plants could hold the key to improving yields in many crop varieties.

“When light changes, the plants need time to get used to it. It takes time and decreases efficiency,” said Yu Wang, a postdoctoral researcher at Illinois, who led this work for a research project called Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE). “Our goal is in trying to limit the loss during the transition period. We are working to make the plants respond faster to the dynamic light environment.” 

Read more here.


Faculty Announcements


Congratulations to Dr. Tony Studer for advancing to Associate Professor and to Dr. Maria Villamil for advancing to full Professor. We are very proud of these excellent faculty members.



  Farmers in a presentation hall

We had another successful Agronomy Day this year. People from all over came out for tours and presentations presented by CPSC faculty, graduate students, and guests. Many thanks to Allen Parrish, the Agronomy Day committee, the farm staff, and the speakers!

If you were not able to attend in-person, do not worry. Videos of the presentations have been posted to our website.


The Crop Sciences Department took part in the 4-H Illini Summer Academies, speaking remotely with high schoolers in the program "Feeding A Growing Population: Food Production, Technology, Plant Behavior, and Crops of the Future". The students received the necessary supplies in the mail to virtually connect with Crop Sciences faculty for hands-on activities and discussions about food production, plant behaviors, agricultural technology, and the connection between local and international agriculture. They also got to test and taste popcorn while learning how scientists are developing crops of the future.