Three Presidential Initiative research awards coming to LAS faculty-led projects

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Three of the seven Presidential Initiative for Interdisciplinary Research grants announced last week by President Steven Leath will go to projects led by College of Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty. The president launched the program to support research efforts that could lead to major advances, discoveries and technologies.

Four Iowa State research teams will receive up to $4.5 million over three years to pursue competitive grants to fund large-scale, multidisciplinary research efforts of national and international importance. Martin Spalding, professor of genetics, development and cell biology and associate dean of LAS, is the principal investigator of one of the projects, titled the "ISU Crop Bioengineering Consortium."

The "pursuit funding" awards can be used for such things as teaching releases, hiring consultants to add value to teams and holding workshops to strengthen connections among ISU and external partners.

Three other projects received "proof-of-concept awards," including two led by LAS faculty. Carol Chapelle, distinguished professor in the linguistics program, is the PI for the project "The Language of Writing in STEM Disciplines." In addition, Drena Dobbs, professor of genetics, development and cell biology, is the PI for "Identifying Potential RNA Therapeutic Targets in Infectious Disease."

These awards provide funds for emerging research areas that are more limited in scope or require proof of concept before investigators can pursue larger funding. Each project will receive up to $100,000 for one year.

"All seven of the interdisciplinary projects chosen for this initiative address significant issues facing us today," said Beate Schmittmann, LAS dean "So it’s gratifying to see that three of them are going to LAS faculty-led projects. These projects are examples of the type of exciting and innovative collaborative research taking place within the college."

Below are descriptions of the three LAS faculty-led research proposals:

ISU Crop Bioengineering Consortium

Principal investigator: Martin Spalding, genetics, development, and cell biology

Description: An urgent grand challenge is to provide sufficient food, feed, fiber, biofuels and biorenewable chemicals for the world’s burgeoning population. Technologies that complement traditional management and breeding, but dramatically accelerate the production and testing of improved crops, are in critical demand. The proposal addresses the challenge through development of a Crop Bioengineering Consortium, comprising researchers from several universities. Using an innovative and transformative genome engineering technology, the consortium will build a platform that allows for rapid integration of promising traits into crop plants.

The Language of Writing in STEM Disciplines

Principal investigator: Carol A. Chapelle, applied linguistics

Description: The vision is to create a national center of scholarship for the study of language in academic and professional writing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The center will conduct research on linguistic practices in STEM disciplines, to improve pedagogy of writing in STEM disciplines, and to develop and apply computational methods for analysis and assessment of discipline-specific writing.

Identifying Potential RNA Therapeutic Targets in Infectious Disease

Principal investigator: Drena Dobbs, genetics, development and cell biology

Description: The primary goal of this proof-of-concept proposal is to establish the core of a future Consortium for RNA-based therapies. The team of interdisciplinary researchers is pursuing an innovative strategy for integrating new high-throughput experimental technologies with computational methods to identify and characterize novel targets for RNA-based therapies to treat infectious disease.

See the list of all seven Presidential Initiative for Interdisciplinary Research awards.


About Liberal Arts and Sciences The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is a world-class learning and research community. Iowa State’s most academically diverse college, LAS educates students to become global citizens, providing rigorous academic programs in the sciences, humanities and social sciences within a supportive personalized learning environment. College faculty design new materials, unravel biological structures, care for the environment, and explore social and behavioral issues. From fundamental research to technology transfer and artistic expression, the college supports people in Iowa and around the world.

NEWS RELEASE College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Iowa State University

Contacts: Steve Jones, Liberal Arts & Sciences Communication, (515) 294-0461,