| Research Student Matthew Waalkes '13
Harvesting soybeans as part of the research for
his Institute Honors Thesis
Conducting research, especially as a mentor to undergraduates, is an invigorating part of my position at VMI. The foundation of my research program is its interdisciplinary nature. I am a plant biologist trained in physiological, molecular, ecological, and biochemical techniques and it is the hypothesis that drives my research rather than the organism. Focusing on how plants partition carbon resources acquired by photosynthesis to produce unique chemistries, I have worked on unicellular algae, parsley cells in suspension culture, tobacco, soybean, and the genetic model, Arabidopsis. I have completed a project examining community ecology aspects of an invasive species, garlic mustard, and its impact on understory forest communities. Currently, my laboratory is one of three components of the new VMI CLEAR (Clean Energy and Air Resources) center that Drs. Moore, Pennington and I began in fall 2011. This center is working to train a workforce of students to develop sources of sustainable energy from plant biomass residues. The other components are housed in Civil Engineering Department, optimizing biofuel production from crop residues, and in the Department of English and Fine Arts which focuses on developing communication skills in our trained researchers. The research that I am conducting involves the development of a genetically modified plant, the Virginia soybean, to will produce high seed yield and optimized cell wall biomolecules enabling use of its stem residues as a fuel crop. My goal is to apply fundamental knowledge about plant chemistry to the genetic engineering of a dual-use food and fuel crop plant to be cultivated on the same plot of land.