CALS Research Advances

Researchers in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University’s Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station advance knowledge through basic science and its application in the fields of agronomy, animal science, food safety, ecology, plant pathology and the social sciences, building on 130 years of scientific leadership. 

The Experiment Station's work represents 15 departments and 25 centers, institutes and initiatives, also supporting research in other ISU colleges and cooperating with scientists in other states and countries working with us on critical problems.

CALS Research Strengths

CALS ranks first out of 60 agricultural colleges for the number of faculty with federal research grants and second for the total number of federal grants, according to a recent Academic Analytics comparison (Aug. 11, 2020). It also ranked second nationally for the number of faculty publishing findings in scientific journals. Over the past eight years, CALS-supported scientists have brought in $400 million in sponsored funding, approximately $50 million per year. (December 2017 data)

These discoveries and inventions frequently are patented and licensed for development into products and services:

  • Research by CALS faculty and staff account for 80 percent of Iowa State University's 377 active technology licensing and option agreements.
  • CALS and the Experiment Station received the largest share of royalty income at Iowa State for the last three fiscal years.
  • Nine of the top 20 income-producing technologies at Iowa State came from research in CALS and the Experiment Station.

How our Research is Funded


Research Highlights

A new $10 million federal grant is supporting a research team led by Iowa State University with Penn State and Roeslein Alternative Energy, to develop new methods of turning biomass and manure into fuel. The five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture will power the Consortium for Cultivating Human and Natural reGenerative Enterprise (C-CHANGE) as it works to create new value chains on U.S. farms, with emphasis on the generation of renewable natural gas, improved rural economic outcomes and protection of the environment. An October 2020 Successful Farming article highlights C-CHANGE's Grass to Gas initiative.

CALS projects Awarded COVID-19 seed grants. ISU's Office of the Vice President for Research has selected seven high-impact projects to receive institutional funding through a new seed program dedicated to addressing the coronavirus outbreak. CALS faculty whose projects will receive funding are Walter Moss, biophysics, biochemistry and molecular biology, and Allen Miller, plant pathology and microbiology (with Cathy Miller, veterinary microbiology and preventative medicine), for their proposal “Analysis and Therapeutic Targeting of the SARS-CoV-2 Frameshift Element"; and Marit Nilsen-Hamilton, biophysics, biochemistry and molecular biology (with Pranav Shrotriya, mechanical engineering), for their proposal “Point-of-Care Sensors for Rapid and Low-Cost Detection of COVID-19 Infections.”

A new report “Innovation to Profit: A Retaking the Field Publication, volume 5  from the SoAR/Supporters of Agricultural Research Foundation provides powerful examples of how federally funded agricultural research reduces producers' costs and risks, increases profits and lays the groundwork for new products and industries. The report references several USDA-funded collaborations led by or involving researchers from Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. More.

Field of sorghumA new project supported by a two-year, $300,000 grant from the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, will explore the potential to employ viruses to overcome the usual tissue culture barriers that impede gene editing in sorghum and switchgrass. The research is being led by Steve Whitham, a professor in plant pathology and microbiology at Iowa State University, along with co-investigators Maria Salas-Fernandez, associate professor in agronomy, and Shuizhang Fei, professor of horticulture.

Current CALS Research News

Two scientists in fall corn field

Iowa State University Scientists Advance Plant Breeding for Organic Industry

Capacity building grants to underscore seed systems development and ag biotech innovation in the Philippines and Africa

Compiled image of ISU faculty selected for ISRC grants

Iowa Soybean Research Center Funds Three Iowa State Research Projects

Headshot of woman in suit

Iowa State University Researchers Investigate Ag Supply Chain Resiliency