The lives and livelihoods of thousands of South Carolinians are being bettered, thanks to Stephen Kresovich and the molecular and population genomics research he and his Clemson faculty and student team are spearheading.

Genomics, simply put, is the complete genetic makeup of an individual — every last gene, which is roughly 30,000 of them. Kresovich is then applying those genomics and bioinformatics concepts to address some of the state’s most pressing issues in agriculture, conservation, nutrition and human health.

The results promise to be bold.

Kresovich, a Ph.D. in crop physiology and genetics, and his team also are using traditional plant breeding alongside modern plant science (such as molecular genetics and biochemistry) to develop new crops and crop-based products. The program has also been designed to foster continued development of the agricultural economy in the Pee Dee region and throughout South Carolina, focusing on improving the value of South Carolina’s major crops, such as soybean, cotton, peanut and peach.

Kresovich is an internationally acclaimed geneticist, and he has taken the lead at Clemson’s Advanced Plant Technology Program. Here, he’s building a team of world-class scientists working to elevate agriculture and health to the next level. That might mean breeding for increased yield, higher energy content, better nutrition, more resistance to pests and pathogens and better growth in South Carolina’s climate and soil. His research is even working to yield a breed of sorghum plant that could be burned to generate electricity or provide a liquid fuel — something that could attract new industry to the state.

By identifying the genetic bases for improved yield and value-added products, Kresovich and his colleagues are positioning the state’s agribusiness industry for a more competitive future. This is important, in large part, because agriculture, forestry and natural resources — agribusiness — represents South Carolina’s largest industry, providing an economic impact of $34 billion and 200,000 jobs.

But as biology becomes increasingly computational, Kresovich explains, he and his team also have the opportunity to collaborate with the Clemson Computing and Information Technology (CCIT) group, which will provide the “computational, analytical and operational muscle” that researchers need to handle big data, his data. With improved technology, they will be better able to apply genomics and bioinformatics tools to address pressing issues beyond agriculture, including in conservation and medicine.

Most recently, seven research projects linking Clemson University with the Greenwood Genetics Center will be supported by Self Regional Hospital Foundation for funding. Five of those projects focus on the understanding and treatment of autism spectrum disorders, while two proposals were combined to study improved diagnostics for hereditary cancers.

“Whether you’re studying the genetics of autism in humans or the genetics of seed quality in soybean, there are certain unifying concepts and approaches to problem solving,” says Kresovich. “You use the same strategic approach, the same layering of data and the same computational ability while still recognizing the unique genomic complexity of the organism and the trait of importance.”

In the first year of his Clemson appointment, Kresovich has traveled throughout the state and spoken to educators, researchers, medical professionals and agricultural and industry stakeholders, among others, about opportunities for using genetics, genomics, and computational sciences to problem solve.

“Building a network of great collaborators who are working on these important issues is going to be key to making the next generation of advancements in medicine, agriculture and industry,” he says. “A university can be an engine for economic development, and that’s what we’re doing here at Clemson.”

In 2012, Clemson University proposed — and the S.C. General Assembly supported — establishing an Advanced Plant Technology program at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center (REC) in Florence. The legislature, in turn, provided $4 million in funding to begin renovation of the laboratories at the Pee Dee REC, but the program will also advance ongoing plant science research at Clemson’s Edisto and Coastal research and education centers in Blackville and Charleston as well as work at the main campus in Clemson.

In addition, Kresovich took the helm of the Institute of Translational Genomics in 2013, and since then he and his team have conducted research that will place South Carolina on the cutting edge of 21st-century sciences, management, and clinical practices. He describes the program as an umbrella organization for solving problems — one that will be a launching pad for problem-oriented work statewide in agriculture, nutrition and human health using genetics, genomics and bioinformatics.

“From the southeastern United States to sub-Saharan Africa, life sciences research in genomics and bioinformatics is working for the greater public good,” Kresovich says. “We’re not just doing public research. We’re doing research for the public good.”

Determined to improve lives through research — Head On.