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Dr. Shiran Ben Zeev

Shiran Ben Zeev

Penn State

Understanding The Secret Language of Plants 


Meet Dr. Shiran Ben-Zeev Va’adia BARD postdoctoral fellow at Pennsylvania State University where he is working on ways to recognize the chemicals which make up the plant-to-plant “language”   

What is the focus of your postdoc work? 

My research focuses on understanding how plants recognize each other and how they interact both below and above ground. To study this, I am growing Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench) plants with and without competitors. We planted them in pots filled with soil. The objective is to grow different numbers of plants in a hydroponic system. I will then use them to recognize the chemicals which make up the plant-to-plant “language”. 

What got you interested in studying this topic? 

Growing up on a farm and as a student studying crop science, I always wondered how much of what we see is dependent on the plant itself and what depends on the plant environment at a community level. Many of the findings during my Ph.D. fieldwork and studies were highly affected by the number of plants growing together. These effects were reflected in plant growth and development before the plants started competing with one another for sunlight. I was intrigued and asked: How do plants know they have neighbors? And how do they respond to them? These are the questions I am currently working on. 

What are your plans once you complete your postdoctoral work? 

Once my postdoc is complete, I plan to return to Israel and pursue a research position. I wish to learn and help Israeli farmers to produce food in a challenging and fascinating agricultural system 

What tip would you give someone just beginning a career in agricultural research? 

My tip for someone starting a career in agricultural research would be to listen to local farmers. Since they are the ones who face the fields’ challenges and the day-to-day agricultural practices. And follow tech companies’ innovations and see what they are trying to solve and how they plan to cope with these challenges. This will help them to target their research but will also guide them to identify the areas that need attention.