University of Florida
Dr. Melanie Correll

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Melanie J. Correll

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Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering
209 Frazier Rogers Hall , PO Box 110570 Gainesville, FL 32611
352-392-1864 ext. 209

Agricultural engineering once focused on machines and structures, and these subjects are still important in modern agriculture. Just as engineers sought to bring the latest in mechanical and structural concepts to agriculture, they are busily looking for agricultural applications of many new technologies that have developed so rapidly in recent decades such as those from the genomics revolution. Melanie Correll is among this new breed of agricultural engineers who is developing tools to link plant genetic information to their physiological traits (i.e., their phenotype) which is classified as a Grand Challenge in the Plant Science community. Correll is developing computational models that can help plant breeders to design new plant cultivars to feed the 9 Billion people by 2050 and help them to select cultivars that can address crop production needs in an ever-changing environment. The models can be used farmers to optimize field management strategies for production while conserving valuable resources. Correll works with an interdisciplinary team of geneticists, plant breeders, agronomists, computer scientists, and statisticians to develop these tools.

Simply put, Correll investigates the effects of the DNA of a plant (genotype), environment, and genotype by environment interactions on a plant trait. Her work requires a detailed knowledge of how plants work from the molecular level to the whole plant. She has to know biochemistry to understand the inner workings, "the machinery," inside plant cells. She also has to understand enough mechanics, electronics, computer programming, and traditional laboratory procedures to create the tools she develops to conduct her research. The models that are developed through her program can use field data with over a million data points and require over 10,000 simulation events so her work firmly fits into the BIG DATA category. Much of her work is done on the HiPerGator, the high performance computing center at the University of Florida.

Correll’s work goes beyond Earth applications, as she has worked extensively with NASA to understand the effect of the space environment on plant responses, including gene expression. Correll observes, as many have, that the space program has yielded many technologies we now use on earth and has provided us with knowledge as to how plants respond to unique environments (microgravity). One reason for this is that space challenges so many underlying assumptions. It is a difficult environment of design for and work in and demands tremendous imagination so the technologies for studying plants in space can improve those used for earth-based applications. While the benefits of this kind of research can be unpredictable, the past indicates that they are numerous.

As climate changes, crop systems will be under tremendous stresses such as heat or drought stress. Since it can take 10 years for a new cultivar to be released by plant breeders, any tool that can speed up this process is desperately needed. The Next Generation of Crop Models that are being built through Correll’s work will help in securing the global food supply by assisting the plant breeding community to understand the genotype and environment interactions so they can new create cultivars to feed the ever growing global population.  

Associate Professor

Dr. Correll specializes in light and gravity effects on plant growth and development, plant-space biology, gene expression patterns in roots and plant bioreactors.

Teaching

  • ABE 3000c Applications of Biological Engineering
  • ABE 4662 Quantification of Biological Processes

Research

  • NASA-project in development with Dr. John Z. Kiss (Miami University, OH) to be performed on the International Space Station to study the effects of light and gravity on plant form.
  • DNA-microarrays to study the effects of light on root gene expression patterns.
  • Root growth and development.

Education

  • Ph.D. Biochemical Engineering, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, MA
  • B.S. Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Clemson University, SC

Professional Experience

  • 2010-Present: Associate Professor, Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department, University of Florida
  • 2004-2010: Assistant Professor, ABE Department, University of Florida
  • 2001-2004: Postdoctoral Associate, Department of Botany, Miami University, Oxford, OH
  • 1999-2000: Teaching Assistant, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA

Awards and Honors

  • ASABE Florida Section Teacher of the Year 2016
  • Theta Tau Mentor Recognition (2008)
  • NASA and European Space Agency Award (2007)
  • ASABE Florida Section Young Researcher (2007)
  • Travel Award American Society of Plant Biologists
  • Danielli Award in Biology and Biotechnology
  • USDA National Needs Fellowship
  • Arvid Anderson Fellowship
  • Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Needs Fellowship

Other Professional Activities

  • Sigma Xi
  • American Society of Plant Biologists