UNCW Associate Professor Ann Stapleton Awarded $490,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture Grant

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Ann Stapleton, associate professor of plant genetics at UNCW, received a $490,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant through a program sponsoring research that leads to improved crop production, yield and disease control. Her research involves developing a data analysis tool to help predict how specific plant varieties will react in environmental conditions such as extreme temperatures, drought, strong winds and a range of soil types.

Stapleton and her research partners, whose backgrounds are in data engineering and statistics, are working on a software application that can accommodate the complex calculations necessary to determine which combinations of genetic traits have the greatest influence over a plant’s ability to survive in different environments.

“We need to be able to build predictions for what a plant will do in a certain location,” Stapleton said. “We know that genetics and environment each play a role. This application will allow us to identify which predictors are most important.”

The ability to anticipate which varieties will thrive in specific conditions is essential to increasing crop production to help farmers meet growing global demand for agricultural products.

“UNCW’s Strategic Plan encourages research that has practical applications in communities, industries and the marketplace,” said Aswani Volety, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Ann’s research has the potential to help growers increase crop production at a time when there is great concern about the sustainability of the world’s food supply.”

The three-year award is among $17.7 million in grants funded through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to optimize crop production, mitigate disease and increase crop yield. The 54 recipients were selected through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, a competitive grant program authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

-- Tricia Vance