Students study sustainable plant disease management

February 15, 2016
Kendell Welch, Sara Rubeck
Plant disease management research

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Two University of Wisconsin-Platteville students are collaborating on a research project that investigates the molecular mechanism of plant defense against pathogens while associating with friendly microbes. Sara Rubeck, a junior from Rockford, Illinois, and Kendell Welch, a senior from Oak Park, Illinois, will present their findings at the 13th annual Posters in the Rotunda event, Wednesday, April 13 in the Capitol Rotunda in Madison, Wisconsin.

The project originated from the concept that volatile organic compounds released by beneficial soil living bacteria have the ability to promote plant growth and provide protection against certain pathogens. Very little is known about the molecular mechanism of how these volatile compounds isolated from bacteria promote plant growth and defense responses. Rubeck and Welch are investigating different possibilities, including the role of these volatile organic compounds in symbiotic associations of crops with beneficial microbes.

The students’ long-term goal is to determine the field-level applications of these volatile organic compounds in a formulation that enables their slow release in order to promote crop growth and provide protection against pathogens. The students believe that this will minimize the use of fungicides currently used in crop production.

The research project is somewhat unique in that it crosses disciplines; Rubeck is a chemistry major and Welch is an environmental horticulture major. Dr. Muthu Venkateshwaran, assistant professor of crop physiology and molecular biology in the School of Agriculture, and Dr. Raja Annamalai, assistant professor of chemistry, co-advise the project. Both students agreed that this creates a more well-rounded learning experience, providing them an opportunity to learn another area of the sciences. 

Rubeck and Welch also agreed that the chance to do hands-on research as an undergraduate has been rewarding. “A big thing I looked at when picking a college was the hands-on experience and the one-on-one with the professors,” said Rubeck. “I’m looking at going to graduate school and this definitely gives me an idea if research is something I want to do.”

“I want to help people realize research is a good opportunity for students and helps them with critical-thinking.”

                              – Sara Rubeck

Welch’s research opportunities on campus started when he worked on a project in the Tree-Ring, Earth, and Environmental Sciences Lab, and later joined the research team led by Venkateshwaran in the School of Agriculture’s Plant-Microbe Symbioses Lab, where he is currently working as a research specialist. “I actually get to do something for a job that has real-world applications that people are going to pay attention to,” said Welch. “Being able to do that as an undergraduate made me realize I want to do research when I graduate.”

The importance of research opportunities in an undergraduate institution is also something Rubeck and Welch agreed they would like to convey to legislators and other state leaders at the Posters in the Rotunda event. “I want to help people realize research is a good opportunity for students and helps them with critical-thinking,” said Rubeck.

“It is really important to do hands-on activities in our education; lectures are good but only go so far,” agreed Welch. “I’m a hands-on person; I need to do something to learn it.”

Posters in the Rotunda is an opportunity for students and their faculty advisors across the University of Wisconsin System to present outstanding undergraduate research on important topics to state legislators, state leaders, UW alumni and the public. Nearly 200 participants from across the University of Wisconsin System are selected to present undergraduate research findings at the annual event.

Written by: Alison Parkins, UW-Platteville University Information and Communications, 608-342-1526,

Vision Statement: UW-Platteville will be recognized as the leading student-focused university for its success in achieving excellence, creating opportunities, and empowering each individual.


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