CALS Research Advances

Researchers in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University’s Ag 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 more than 130 years of leadership. The Experiment Station's work also supports research in other ISU colleges and in cooperation with scientists in other states and countries.

CALS Research Strengths

CALS ranks first out of 60 agricultural colleges for the number of faculty with federal research grants and third for the total number of federal grants, according to Academic Analytics comparisons (Feb 1, 2020). It also ranked second nationally for the number of faculty publishing findings in scientific journals.

Nearly $56 million in external funding was received by CALS/Agricultural Experiment Station-supported faculty and staff in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020. Nearly 65 percent of the funding came from federal agencies. Over the past five years, CALS has brought in $275 million in external funding, averaging more than $55 million per year. 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 (FY2020).
  • CALS and the Ag Experiment Station received the largest share of royalty income at Iowa State for the last five fiscal years.
  • Nine of the top 20 income-producing technologies at Iowa State came from research in CALS and the Experiment Station in the last two years. 

How our Research is Funded

CALS Funding - Fiscal Year 2021
Total $55,352,000

59% Federal agencies, 16% Businesses/corporations, 6% State agencies, 10% Other universities/colleges, 3% Commodity associations, 6% Foundations/assosciations/nonprofits, 0% Other sources

Research Highlights

Designing a Plant Cuticle in the Lab 
A cross-disciplinary team of scientists led by Marna Yandeau-Nelson, genetics, development and cell biology, are working to bioengineer a common defense mechanism that most plants develop naturally to protect against drought, insects and other environmental stresses. The goal is to identify the genetic structure of a plant cuticle and create a roadmap for breeding plants with designer cuticles that can respond to changing climates. More

Map of Midwest corn experiments.FFAR Awards $2 million for Sustainable Corn Research
The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research has awarded a $2,044,214 grant to Iowa State University to evaluate how maize breeding, field management and environment affect sustainable corn production. Led by Sotirios Archontoulis, associate professor of agronomy, the project will examine corn hybrid characteristics at an unprecedented scale to analyze yield trends in the U.S. Corn Belt. The project represents a $4,089,857 total investment, with additional funding from Iowa State, Bayer Crop Science, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and others. More. 

 ISU scientists receive $2 million, federal grant to advance research on blood stem cells
Raquel Espin Palazon, assistant professor of genetics, development and cell biology, is leading an interdisciplinary research team examining a genetic pathway triggered when cells undergo inflammation due to injury or infection. Espin Palazon said the genetic pathway also plays an important role in the development of blood stem cells, or undifferentiated cells with the potential to develop into all human blood cell types. More. 

Researchers team up to break down, upcycle low-quality, rejected plastic wastes
Iowa State University scientists are integrating existing and new technologies to break down waste plastics and convert them into useful materials. New research projects, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, aim to convert the lowest-quality plastics in the waste stream, now rejected for recycling, into materials for construction industries. The new grant teams include researchers in the Colleges of Engineering and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. More.