Having seen the movie “The Happening” a few years ago, it still makes me wonder how plant species could send out signals and aerial viruses to protect itself from humans. Of course it’s science fiction, but somehow it still begs the question – will it ever happen? I hope not. However, if there’s something we can be optimistic about plants and plant-microbe interactions, it is the fact that plants have many uses to mankind more than we can ever imagine.
Recently, RTI International, a company that specializes in plant-microbe interaction, hired Daniel Van Der Lelie, Ph.D., to lead the new center for Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology. The center aims to unlock the mysteries of plant-microbe interaction and apply such knowledge to a wide range of applications.
Part of the work of the center is to conduct advanced agricultural and biotechnology research with hopes of enhancing our understanding of critical plant-microbe interactions, physiological processes, and metabolomic modeling. Those are big and scary scientific terms, but they’re not. Once those researches are fulfilled, they will be used for commercial purposes.
Jennie Hunter-Cevera, executive vice-president of Discovery and Analytical Sciences, Government Affairs and Corporate Development, is very optimistic about the new center and Van Der Lelie’s heading it.
“Agricultural science and biotechnology are poised to lead a technological revolution in fields ranging from crop science and food security to drug development, renewable energy, and environmental bioremediation as well as nutrition and wellness,” Hunter-Cevera said. “Led by Van der Lelie, a true founder in the field, this new center will help lead this revolution by unlocking genetic and environmental resources that will help create a healthier, more secure and sustainable future.”
Work on the center is currently underway. Van der Lelie plans to have the center fully operational by the end of the fiscal year.
This new initiative will leverage internal talent across RTI and also look for new strategic hires as the programs grows. The center will also advance the understanding of benefits and potential environmental challenges presented by new technologies and developments. This includes nanotechnology, biofuel production and utilization, climate change, population growth and wetland development.
In addition to basic research, the center will conduct translational science and research, collaborating with other laboratories and leading universities to develop technologies that reach the commercial marketplace.
As for Van De Lelie’s leadership and background, he has spent the past nine years at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he researched the development of new genomic tools. He then used those tools to study the functioning of microorganisms and how to apply the findings of his research to real-world problems such as pollution cleanup, biofuels as alternative energy, and understanding beneficial interactions between plants and their associated microorganisms.
He has written more than 130 publications and given numerous lectures nationally and internationally. He serves on the editorial boards for the International Journal of Phytoremediation and Microbial Biotechnology and is a member of the American Society for Microbiology, Society for Industrial Microbiology and International Phytotechnology Society.
A Dutch native, Van Der Lelie earned a doctorate in mathematics and sciences with a specialization in biology and a master’s degree in biology from the University of Groningen, The Netherlands. He also earned a master’s in business administration from the University of Ghent.