REU: Expanding Opportunities in Agricultural Sciences, 1890-1862 Land Grant University

For information contact

Outreach Coordinator, EPSCoR

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Students working with plants in the field.
Students working with plants in the field.

Who should apply

Related fields

  • Agriculture
  • Agronomy & Horticulture
  • Plant Sciences
  • Plant Pathology

This program will focus on recruiting from 1890 Land Grant Universities (e.g. Tuskegee University, Delaware State, and North Carolina A&T).


Participation in the Nebraska Summer Research Program is limited to students who meet the following criteria:
  • U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident
  • Current undergraduate with at least one semester of coursework remaining before obtaining a bachelor's degree

See Eligibility for more information.

How to apply

Follow the application steps to submit the following materials.

About the Program

This pilot program is aimed at building stronger reciprocal ties between agricultural research at 1862 and 1890 Land Grant Universities (LGUs) by expanding access to research and educational resources, providing greater opportunities for student career development, and promoting diversity in US agricultural sciences, industries, and production. Student participants will conduct research projects in fundamental and/or applied aspects of plant sciences. We envision research projects may span lab-based research, computational biology, and field-based production research with training in areas including molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics/genomics, and physiology. 

Participants will develop and implement a summer research project under the guidance of the faculty mentor and his/her research team. Students will also participate in weekly interactive meetings with UNL faculty members on development of scientific research and communication skills and with experts in academic and industrial agricultural research, extension, and crop and livestock production.  

REU and UCARE students in the field.
REU and UCARE students in the field.

To meet the needs of non-traditional students who are unable to dedicate a summer in Nebraska, we will also implement a hybrid model where the student conducts research at their home institution in a collaborative arrangement between faculty at UNL and their home university.   


  • Competitive stipend: $5,000
  • Suite-style room and meal plan
  • Travel expenses to and from Lincoln
  • Campus parking and/or bus pass
  • Full access to the Campus Recreation Center and campus library system
  • Wireless internet access

Learn more about academic and financial benefits.


  • Department seminars and presentations
  • Professional development workshops (e.g., applying to graduate school, taking the GRE)
  • Welcome picnic
  • Day trip to Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
  • Outdoor adventures
  • Research symposium

Mentors and Projects

Dr. P. Stephen Baenziger Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

Small Grains Breeding and Genetics

The student will have the opportunity to work in an applied plant breeding program focusing on improving winter wheat, barley, and triticale.  Using wheat as an example 20% of the calories and 20% of the protein consumed by humans is from wheat.  Depending upon the student’s background and interest, he or she can study the genetics of winter survival, disease, insect, or herbicide tolerance, the floral biology needed for hybrid wheat (will depend on the student’s arrival date as flowering occurs in mid to late May), or end-use quality (primarily does an experimental line make a good loaf of bread). 

Dr. Edgar Cahoon Department of Biochemistry & Center for Plant Science Innovation

Innovations for crop value enhancement

The student participant will conduct lab- and field-based research aimed at transferring metabolic pathways for high-value traits for food, feed, industrial, or bioenergy uses in crops such as soybean and sorghum. The student will participate in metabolic engineering experiments using synthetic biology tools and gain exposure to biochemistry, molecular biology, and analytical chemistry for biotechnological development of crops with enhanced value. The student will also have the opportunity to monitor the agronomic properties of engineered crops in field test plots.

Dr. Katarzyna Glowacka Department of Biochemistry, Center for Plant Science Innovation

Understanding the protection of photosynthesis apparatus from abiotic stresses

Photosynthesis, one of the most important biological processes, feeds directly or indirectly almost all life on Earth. Therefore, it is urgent to gain the understanding how we can modify photosynthesis by genome alteration or/and breeding for improving plant growth under abiotic stresses to secure food and bioenergy production in the future. The student will investigate the plant physiological characteristics under control and stress conditions. The project will include measuring plants photosynthesis based on chlorophyll fluorescence, analyzing images and investigating the biochemical changes in the leaves.

Dr. Joshua Herr Department of Plant Pathology; Center for Plant Science Innovation; School of Biological Sciences - Genetics, Cell, and Molecular Biology; and Quantitative Life Sciences Initiative

Increasing crop yields through the application of host-specific arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi

The student involved with this project will facilitate a greenhouse experiment when they will grow different varieties of dry beans and will apply a suite of arbuscular mycorrhizal and endospore-forming fungi known to promote plant growth and increase yields. The student will measure plant biomass growth and seed weight and quality. The project will then consist of the extraction of DNA and RNA in the laboratory. After sequencing of the nucleotides, the student will quantify plant and fungal gene transcription with host-symbiont pairings that correspond to increased growth and yields. 

Dr. David R. Holding Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

Breeding experience for undergraduates in generation of novel varieties of popcorn and sweetcorn

The project is a continuation of a multi-pronged approach to breed several new varieties of popcorn and sweetcorn using public germplasm. The overarching goal is to provide undergraduates with hands-on experience in basic field techniques in maize breeding while also exposing them to hands on lab screening techniques using primer design, DNA extraction, PCR and protein analysis.

Dr. Marc Libault Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

Understand the regulation of plant gene expression at the single-cell level

The student participant will study the regulatory mechanisms controlling the expression of each plant gene in each cell composing the root. This project will contribute to our understanding of the role and regulation of plant genes in controlling root development and root cell differentiation. To reach his/her objective, the student will benefit from the expertise of lab members in plant single-cell –omics (one of the most innovative molecular technologies) and in bioinformatics. 

Dr. Joe Louis Department of Entomology and Biochemistry

Understanding plant defense mechanisms to insect pests

This project will focus on understanding endogenous plant defense mechanisms and to better understand the behavior and chemical ecology of multi-trophic interactions between plants, pests, or beneficial species. Undergraduate students will be given a specific project to complete that will require them to become familiar with insect bioassays, feeding behavior analysis, RNA techniques, and to identify and quantify the different defense-related phytohormones or blends of volatile organic compounds (VOC) that can attract natural enemies of the attacking herbivores.

Dr. Sabrina Russo School of Biological Sciences, Center for Plant Science Innovation

Effects of mycorrhizal composition on drought tolerance of Nebraska sand hill prairie grass species

Biomes worldwide are experiencing dramatic shifts in rainfall regimes and the frequency and severity of drought, which has consequences for plant productivity in natural and agricultural systems.  Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi colonizing grass roots play important roles in enhancing nutrient uptake, but less is known about their effects on drought tolerance of grasses.  This REU project will involve conducting greenhouse experiments using prairie grass species occurring on a natural water availability gradient in the Nebraska sandhills.  We will manipulate mycorrhizal colonization and water stress to test the hypothesis that mycorrhiza enhance drought tolerance of grasses, and explore the underlying physiological mechanisms.  

Dr. Daniel Schachtman Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

Plant and soil microbiology - studies on the mysteries of the underground microbiome

The student participant will work as a team member with others on lab- and field-based research aimed at determining the role that key soil bacteria and fungi play in enhancing yields and stress tolerance. The microbes will either come directly from field experiments or from our extensive culture collection. 

Dr. James Schnable Quantitative Life Sciences Initiative & Center for Plant Science Innovation

Mapping genes controlling trait variation in corn and sorghum

The student will be engaged in phenotyping efforts to measure traits in diverse panels of corn or sorghum and then use the data they generate to map the genes that control these traits in one or both of these crop species. Depending on the student’s background, interests, and whether the project is conducted remotely or on-site, measuring traits may include physical measurements of plants in the field or seedlings grown in the greenhouse, manual measurements from photos collected in the field or greenhouse or using computer vision and artificial intelligence software tools to have computers measure traits directly from images and other sensor data. The measurements the student generates will then allow them to conduct a genome wide association study and identify potential candidate genes controlling their trait of interest. 

Dr. Mark Wilkins Department of Biological Systems Engineering, Department of Food Science and Technology

Bioplastics production from novel lignins

The student participant will look at conversion of lignins from plant cell walls that have modified structures compared to wild-type. These lignins would include those from natural mutations, particularly brown midrib corn and sorghum varieties, and those achieved through genetic manipulation. In particular, the student would look at how utilizing lignins that are constructed from aromatic aldehydes (as opposed to aromatic alcohols) and/or have increased cinnamic acid content affect yields of PHAs from microbial cell culture. Preliminary work indicates that these lignins results in higher PhB yields as opposed to wild-type, but only a few cell cultures have been done.

Dr. Richard A. Wilson Department of Plant Pathology

Connecting fungal growth in living plant cells with host innate immunity suppression

Fungal phytopathogens cause devastating plant diseases and a handful threaten global food security. One of the most notorious of these is the blast fungus Magnaporthe oryzae (syn. Pyricularia oryzae), which destroys 10-30 % of rice harvests each year and is an emerging problem on wheat. M. oryzae is a class of phytopathogen called a hemibiotroph. Hemibiotrophs grow for several days in intimate contact with living host plant cells before the onset of disease symptoms. In M. oryzae, this early biotrophic growth stage is characterized by the elaboration of intracellular invasive hyphae that are wrapped in host-derived membranes, forming a biotrophic interface for deploying plant-immune suppressing protein effectors and for exchanging nutrients. An open question in plant pathology lies in not understanding the molecular decision-making processes balancing invasive hyphal growth, biotrophic interfacial integrity and host innate immunity suppression during the fungal colonization of living host plant cells. Disrupting this balance might reveal novel mitigation strategies or sources of host resistance. 

Dr. Jinliang Yang Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, Center for Plant Science Innovation

Understand the regulatory regions in controlling gene expression and agronomical traits of interest

Agronomically important traits were under complex genetic control.

Depending on the student’s background and interests, she/he will be working on generating or analyzing multi-Omics data to untangle the intricate patterns in controlling phenotypic variation. For the Omics data, the student will be focusing on studying active chromatin regions, especially the enhancers or promoters that are actively involved in gene regulations. The student will have the opportunity to work with researchers from a range of academic backgrounds. They will also learn how to use computational tools to establish the connections between the multi-Omics data and traits of interest. 

Dr. Bin Yu School of Biological Sciences, Center for Plant Science Innovation

Understand mechanisms controlling noncoding RNA metabolism

Non-coding RNAs are regulatory RNAs that play critical roles in regulating gene expression and chromatin stability. They play critical roles in various biological processes such as development and responses to various environmental signals  However, related regulatory processes and mechanisms are still less understood. In this project, the student will work with other fellow researchers  to combine gene co-expression network and protein interaction data to identify candidate genes involved in regulating the levels of  miRNA and/or other non-coding RNAs.  Moreover, the student will also work on the functional analyses of the candidate genes. The student will have opportunities to learn molecular biology, bioinformatics, RNA biology, biochemistry and cell biology

Dr. Chi Zhang School of Biological Sciences

Bioinformatics study in mRNA splicing to improve gene function annotation in crops

Precursor messenger RNA (pre-mRNA) splicing is the process by which intron sequences are identified and excised from pre-mRNA transcripts with concurrent ligation of the flanking exons. Pre-mRNA is an important step for gene expression regulation, and gene structure information, such as exon sequences and locations, is critical in pre-mRNA splicing studies. Next-generation sequencing technology has been used in biological studies widely, including obtaining gene structure information. However, many exons, such as exons with structure variations, are challenging to be detected with current methods.