Student Research Spotlight - Elizabeth Rowen
Posted: April 15, 2016
From the ground up: improving plant defense through soil health
By Asifa Hameed
An old proverb from Eastern Europe states: “Soil is just like a mother who raises her child". At Penn State, scientists are studying how healthy soils can produce healthy and productive plants.
Elizabeth Rowen, a graduate student in Penn State's Department of Entomology, says, “I’m interested in how we can increase beneficial soil bacteria that can help plants fight off damaging insects in corn fields. I hope the results of my studies will help growers better cultivate their soils so they will not have as many insect problems”.
According to Rowen, though soils are the basis for life on land, modern farming practices have reduced the numbers and diversity of organisms living in the soil. Rowen notes that beneficial bacteria can help plants to combat diseases and insects pests.
In Rowen's studies, she will assess whether having more bacteria and fungi in the soil make it better habitat for beneficial bacterial species that improve plant growth and resilience. To test the impacts of these different soil types, she will evaluate the ability of caterpillars to feed and develop on plants grown in different soils.
By defining what factors allow soil to support healthier and more resilient plants, Rowen's research will help farmers develop more sustainable management and production practices, from the ground up.