Laboratory Equipment: What are some
of the newest instrumentations and tools
that will help propel sustainable crop
production and agriculture in the future?
Peiyu Zeng and Lynda McMaster-Schuyler: It is more about how we are
using the tools, and for what purposes,
than it is the newness of the tools. I would
suspect many labs our size are using PCR
thermocyclers, fluorescent cell imagers
and spectrophotometers. We are too.
But how we use those tools in our work
is progressing. We would love to have
a fluorescent cell imager, which would
instantly become our gateway into looking
at gene expression. As we move from
crop to crop in our research it is one tool
on which we would rely to determine the
success of genetic transformation in our
cultures of switchgrass, hemp and hops.
LE: What trends do you expect to see in
the crop science research industry in the
coming months and years?
PZ and LM-S: We anticipate research
that devotes even more time and energy
to working with crops that can withstand/
tolerate climate change as a whole,
rather than one individual contributor or
byproduct of climate change. A lot of
today’s research looks at designing crops
that can be disease-resistant, or pest-
resistant, or drought-tolerant. Unfortunately
crops often must withstand more than one
influencer. As climate change is evolving
so too are those influencers. Crops that
have thrived in regions without ever
needing to combat certain pests are now
severely challenged because they need
to do just that. Crops that have long been
considered “drought-tolerant” are needing
to withstand more devastating droughts.
LE: What kind of monitoring equipment is
used in crop/agriculture research?
PZ and LM-S: Tools that enable GPS
monitoring of soil conditions are big
ones we hear about, because for so
long handheld instruments have been
the norm. Not anymore. People who
work with genetics in the lab rather than
with seedlings in the field may take for
granted how valuable it is for agricultural
researchers to develop understanding
of micronutrients in the soil. Precision
agriculture techniques and advanced
monitoring have necessitated tools with
functions way beyond our ability to explain.
Handheld instruments, and even pieces
of equipment like spectrophotometers
and refractometers, are still common.
We use them in the biotech lab, and the
plant-scientists on our campus use them
LE: How is climate change impacting
PZ and LM-S: As climate change evolves
and takes new forms, our research is
adjusting to that evolution. No longer
is climate change giving us abnormal
conditions—it is now giving us extreme
conditions. That forces us to take into
account possibilities that 10 years ago
may have been impossibilities. Our
“drought-resistant” cultivars are becoming
“heat-tolerant” cultivars, because with
more and more likelihood a soy plant is
going to need to tolerate a lifetime of heat
rather than a season of drought. We also
have an added awareness of the world’s
continued population growth.
LE: Since new cultivars of plants and
fungi are being discovered every day, how
does scientific instrumentation keep up?
PZ and LM-S: It is important to keep in
mind that the creation of many of these
cultivars are responses to laboratories
getting their hands on innovative scientific
instrumentation. But be it in the lab or in
the field, portability is key. Not only do our
instruments have added function when we
can apply them in multiple environments,
but portability is vital to providing our
students opportunities for applied
learning. Enhancing technology is great,
but we really notice added value and
increased efficiency with faster, portable
instruments. Oftentimes we are looking to
improve how we research, rather than turn
our research on its head.
In the Lab:
Inside SUNY Cobleskill’s biotech laboratory, Dr. Lynda McMaster-Schuyler, Professor of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Dr. Peiyu Zeng, Associate Professor
of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, are conducting research which includes
developing disease- and drought-resistant soybeans, hops research, extracting
strains of yeast from a 133-year-old bottle of beer recovered from a shipwreck, and
cultivating high-yield switchgrass for possible use as biofuel.
Biotechnology Advances the
Narrative for Crop Development
Dr. Peiyu Zeng and students.
Image: Courtesy of SUNY Cobleskill
Dr. Lynda McMaster-Schuyler and students.
Image: Courtesy of SUNY Cobleskill