What makes successful potatoes, and science teachers, tick?

May 7, 2020

Whether you are a seasoned researcher or a student teacher, it is never too late or too early to develop new investigative and pedagogical skills. But if you are a potato—one of the most important and nutritious food crops in the world—timing is everything.

Like the human sleep/wake cycle, potato physiology is regulated by internal circadian rhythms sensitive to the earth’s 24-hour oscillation of light, but changes linked to potato domestication wound potato clocks faster than expected.

With support from a four-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Michigan State University scientists will investigate what makes successful domesticated potatoes and successful science teachers tick.

Students in MSU labs led by Robin Buell and Eva Farré harvest potatoes that are a cross between a cultivated potato and a wild potato species that display great variation in circadian period and agronomic traits. The association between these two factors will help identify the role of circadian regulation in potato domestication. Credit: Buell Lab

Eva Farré, associate professor in MSU’s Department of Plant Biology, will lead the study, which is ultimately intended to help optimize the growth of potatoes. David Stroupe, associate professor in the MSU College of Education, will collaborate to provide training opportunities for future teachers.

“One challenge for future science teachers is that they rarely have opportunities to engage in disciplinary practices that are now the norm for K-12 students,” said Stroupe, who also serves as associate director for STEM Teacher Education in the CREATE for STEM Institute. “In this project, four future teachers will have the exciting opportunity to be immersed in Dr. Farré’s laboratory, help conduct potato research and then teach an undergraduate science course.”

“I wanted to reach out to Dr. Stroupe to improve skills for teaching science experiments in schools,” Farré said. “Providing a lab experience will help define the research activities and teaching models that work best to learn the skills they need as teachers.”

For more on the research project, read the full story from the College of Natural Science.