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Biology prof receives $1 million NSF/NIFA grant to study how plants respond to insect attacks

Melkamu Woldemariam
Melkamu Woldemariam

TCNJ Assistant Professor of Biology Melkamu Woldemariam, a plant biologist who specializes in molecular and chemical ecology, has been awarded a $1 million joint grant from the National Science Foundation and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to support his research program and to engage undergraduate research collaborators in his work.

Each year, a sizable fraction of global agricultural productivity in crop plants is lost to insect and pathogen attack. Woldemariam’s research involves comparing the chemical composition of corn varieties and how we can better prevent against insect attack as well as revealing the genetic causes for the variability in plant chemical defenses.

“It’s an awesome feeling to know that the work we do here at TCNJ is viewed very favorably by talented researchers in the field,” Woldemariam said. “I am thrilled to be able to give my students the opportunity to participate in this project with potential national and international significance.”

In addition to improving agricultural outcomes, one of Woldemariam’s main goals through this award is to provide authentic research experiences to his students. TCNJ undergraduates will participate as full collaborators in the research for this project and will have the opportunity to travel to and work with researchers from the world-renowned Boyce Thompson Institute, a premier life sciences research institution located on the Cornell University campus.

“This award will enable Dr. Woldemariam, his students, and his collaborators to investigate how a specific signaling molecules coordinate plant responses to insect attack,” said Amanda Norvell, interim dean of the TCNJ School of Science. “Dr. Woldemariam’s work has broad implications for global agriculture, as crop loss from herbivore destruction is a global threat.”

For more information on TCNJ’s biology program please visit



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