University of Kentucky College of Agriculture



Kentucky Tobacco Research and Development Center

Research and Services

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The overall objective of KTRDC research is to encourage and facilitate the development of new crop opportunities for Kentucky agriculture, based on new applications for the tobacco plant and new plant-derived ‘natural products’. KTRDC-funded projects address this objective in several different ways:
  • Optimizing the tobacco plant, and tobacco production, for molecular farming and PMP applications;
  • Developing new technologies for enhanced gene expression, metabolic engineering, and discovery of novel natural products in plants;
  • Discovering and developing new plant-product concepts having potential to create new markets;
  • Assisting companies to explore the use of plants as manufacturing systems for new products; and
  • Devising new ‘support’ technologies for PMP and molecular farming commercialization, addressing bioprocessing, harvesting, identity preservation and regulatory compliance, etc.

KTRDC research is conducted by a team of scientists and faculty associates at the Center’s facilities, and also through grants to university faculty in Kentucky. KTRDC grants enable investigators to initiate new lines of research having relevance to the KTRDC program, such as improved gene-vector systems for high-level expression of proteins in tobacco, and new strategies for extraction and purification of protein products from plants. In addition, KTRDC in-house research emphasizes longer-term projects and ongoing services, as illustrated by the following examples:

Developing prototype tobacco plants to explore the potential of a crop-based production system
Dr. Indu Maiti’s research group uses promoter technology proprietary to the University of Kentucky to prepare transgenic plants for collaborators in the commercial and academic environments. By helping companies experience and evaluate the tobacco production strategy in this way, KTRDC researchers increase the opportunity for development of new applications for the tobacco plant.

Economic modeling of new applications for tobacco
KTRDC Director Dr. Orlando Chambers' research includes detailed analysis of tobacco production strategies, as well as in-depth surveys of markets and the commercial potential for diverse product types that might be derived through tobacco farming. This research is used in the design of new tobacco varieties for molecular farming and plant-made pharmaceuticals (PMP) applications, and to assist companies which may become future customers of the tobacco farmer.

Manipulation of plant ‘natural products’
The enormous variety of medicinal substances, food ingredients and structural materials obtained routinely from plants attests to the vast potential of plants to produce useful chemical compounds.

Dr. Ling Yuan
is exploring the genetic regulation underlying the production of natural products in plant cells, and aims to apply this knowledge to develop novel plants that make useful new substances.

Dr. George Wagner’s research explores novel materials produced on the surface of the tobacco leaf, which have potential use as pesticides and pharmaceuticals.

Technologies to improve crop performance and production
Dr. Jan Smalle's research group investigates the role of protein
degradation in controlling plant size and stress responses. In addition, his lab is studying the cytokinin signaling pathway and its potential
applications for improving crop yields.


Dr. Hongyan Zhu’s research aims to use comparative genomics tools to understand the evolution of structure and function of plant genomes, to integrate comparative structural genomics with comparative plant biology, and to translate information gained from model systems into the genetic improvement of economically important crops.  Current research focuses on two extremes of plant-microbe interactions: Defense and Symbiosis.  Both research topics involve ‘translational' research from model legumes to crop legumes and to non-legumes.  For plant disease resistance, the long-term goal is to use the model legume M. truncatula as a surrogate to clone and characterize disease resistance genes against alfalfa pathogens.  For symbiosis, his group is using rice as a model system to characterize the function of non-legume counterparts of legume genes that are required for root symbioses, with the ultimate goal to understand the evolution of root symbioses in plants.

Development of a new tobacco variety and optimized tobacco production system for PM(I)P applications
KTRDC research conducted by Drs. David Zaitlin, and Orlando Chambers is focused on the development of a new tobacco type which will be more economical to produce, and better suited to the new applications of the plant as a protein-manufacturing system. The desired new ‘vehicle’ variety will exhibit such characteristics as disease resistance (blue mold, black shank), more economical production through multiple (mechanized) harvesting, compatibility with all appropriate gene expression systems, and several features which will obviate any possibility of co-mingling with conventional tobacco (‘identity preservation’). This research is conducted in close collaboration with the Department of Plant & Soil Sciences at the University of Kentucky.

Facilities and Equipment
Director Dr. Orlando Chambers is responsible for all research and services of the Center, including the KTRDC building which provides approximately 66,000 sq. ft. of laboratory and office space. State-of-the-art growth rooms provide controlled, round-the-clock monitored environments for propagation and maintenance of plants and cultured plant tissues. Greenhouse space is available nearby, and KTRDC has constructed two larger greenhouses at the university’s Spindletop Research Farm in Lexington.

KTRDC has its own equipment for DNA sequencing and analysis, DNA microarray technology, automated liquid-handling, most forms of chromatography, and basic mass spectrometry. All KTRDC offices and laboratories are equipped with high-speed data ports for computer networking.

Research Services
The KTRDC Plant Genetic Engineering Service develops prototype transgenic tobacco (or Arabidopsis) plants for university researchers or company collaborators. This service, which makes use of proprietary promoters and other technologies developed at KTRDC, is very helpful to investigators who have isolated genes of relevance to agricultural biotechnology but who lack the resources needed to explore their utility in plants. To inquire about this service, please contact principal investigator Dr. Indu Maiti by email (imati@uky.edu) or telephone (859) 257-3296.

KTRDC supplies the research-reference cigarettes which were made for the former Tobacco and Health Research Institute. To obtain further details and to place orders, please contact Orlando Chambers by email (ochamb@uky.edu), telephone (859) 257-2660, or fax (859) 323-1887.

Copyright (c) 2002

Contact Orlando Chambers with any
questions or comments.
Updated 8/17/12 .
UK Policy Warning.