MEMS and Microfluidics Technologies for Plant Phenomics and Sustainable Agriculture and Environment

Thursday, April 13, 2017 - 1:00pm
3110 Etcheverry Hall
Dr. Liang Dong

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Iowa State University


Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology has enabled a number of inexpensive, high-performance microscale devices in the consumer electronics and automotive markets, and also has been extensively studied to help advance biological, chemical, and medical research. However, MEMS technology has been under-researched for emerging applications in the plant science and agriculture areas that have huge social and economic impacts.


The first part of my talk is about the development of microfluidic devices for high-throughput plant phenotyping. Systematic characterization of plant phenotypes remains a major challenge due to their large genome sizes. A large number of genes respond differentially to various external and internal stimuli. Because of this complexity, analyzing plant phenotypes with high throughput and resolution has been difficult and expensive. I will present a few examples and applications of our microfluidic devices to overcome this issue. Our devices allow growing multiple model plants under various biotic and abiotic stress conditions. This provides a convenient platform to monitor root and shoot phenotypes, as well as plant-pathogen interactions at high throughput. In addition, different genotypes can be simultaneously characterized at the physiological, biochemical and molecular levels on this platform.


The second part is about the development of MEMS sensors for monitoring of nitrate in agricultural soils for precise nutrient application in farming. Excessive application of nitrogen fertilizer has caused a range of negative effects on the environment, including loss of biodiversity, pollution of water, reduced crop productivity, and global climate change. Improving the nitrogen use efficiency of crops has a great potential to reduce these negative externalities. I will present several microfluidic sensors able to measure nitrate in soils and quantify nutrient uptake of plants from surrounding environments in a real-time manner. By measurement of the availability of plant nutrients in soils, it is possible to make the most efficient use of fertilizers, thus enhancing sustainable agriculture and environment.


The last part is focused on the development of microfluidic devices for phenotyping of agricultural nematodes. Microscopic nematodes that parasitize plants are a global problem for agriculture. Many nematicides and anthelmintics are losing their effectiveness, because nematode strains with resistance are emerging. However, screening for chemical resistance of nematodes is still of low throughput and labor intensive. I will present our research on the development of a microfluidic tool kit for accurate screening of chemicals against parasitic nematodes. This tool kit will overcome the issue of excessive time and agent/reagent consumption, labor intensiveness, and inaccuracy associated with conventional nematode motility based chemical screening methods, thus benefiting the whole animal-based phenotypic assays.


Dr. Liang Dong is an Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Iowa State University (ISU). He is also affiliated with the Microelectronics Research Center and the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at ISU, and is an associate of the U.S. DOE-Ames Laboratory. He received his Ph.D. degree in Electronic Science and Technology from Tsinghua University, Beijing, China, in 2004. Before he joined the faculty at Iowa State in 2007, he was a Postdoctoral Research Associate at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Dong’s research is focused on developing MEMS sensors, actuators, microfluidic devices, nanophotonic devices, and nanomaterials. His research has been well funded by NSF, USDA, ARPA-e, DOE, State of Iowa, and industrial companies. He has published more than 120 journal and conference articles in the areas of his expertise. He previously received the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the Plant Sciences Institute Faculty Scholar Award, the Early Career Engineering Faculty Research Award, the Harpole-Pentair Developing Faculty Award, the Warren B. Boast Undergraduate Teaching Award, and the National Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award of China. He also serves as an Editorial Board Member of the journal Scientific Reports.


Hosted by: Professor Liwei Lin, 5135 Etcheverry Hall, 510- 643-5495,