January 31, 2011

New RTI International Center for Agricultural, Environmental Biotechnology Has Wide-Ranging Focus

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Daniel van der Lelie
Daniel van der Lelie

Microbial ecology pioneer Daniel van der Lelie will lead the center

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.—RTI International has hired pioneer in the field of microbial ecology Daniel (Niels) van der Lelie, Ph.D., to lead the new center for Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology, which seeks to unlock the mysteries of the plant-microbe interaction and apply that knowledge to a wide range of applications.

The center will conduct advanced agricultural and biotechnology research that enhances understanding of critical plant-microbe interactions, physiological processes, and metabolomic modeling to enable a wide range of commercial applications.

"Agricultural science and biotechnology are poised to lead a technological revolution in fields ranging from crop science and food security to drug development, renewable energy, and environmental bioremediation as well as nutrition and wellness," said Jennie Hunter-Cevera, executive vice president of Discovery and Analytical Sciences, Government Affairs and Corporate Development. "Led by Van der Lelie, a true founder in the field, this new center will help lead this revolution by unlocking genetic and environmental resources that will help create a healthier, more secure and sustainable future."

Work on the center is currently underway. Van der Lelie plans to have the center fully operational by the end of the fiscal year.

This new initiative will leverage internal talent across RTI and also look for new strategic hires as the programs grows.

Prior to joining RTI, van der Lelie has spent the past nine years at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he researched the development of new genomic tools to study the functioning of microorganisms and to apply those findings to real-world problems such as pollution cleanup, biofuels as alternative energy, and understanding beneficial interactions between plants and their associated microorganisms.

Led by van der Lelie and funded by the federal government, industry partnerships and other entities, the Center for Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology will support:

  • Sustainable, economically viable agricultural development via green biotechnology, including biofertilizers, alternative pesticides and herbicides, and value-added uses for agricultural waste products
  • An ethnobotany program that scans the United States and the world to identify and develop the potential of plant and agricultural resources and practices
  • Renewable energy derived from plants and agricultural wastes, using methods that reduce competition for valuable agricultural resources
  • Food safety and consumer protection
  • Scientific and public policy aspects of environmental contamination and bioremediation


The center will also advance the understanding of benefits and potential environmental challenges presented by new technologies and developments—including nanotechnology, biofuel production and utilization, climate change, population growth and wetland development.

In addition to basic research, the center will conduct translational science and research, collaborating with other laboratories and leading universities to develop technologies that reach the commercial marketplace.

Van der Lelie has written more than 130 publications and given numerous lectures nationally and internationally. He serves on the editorial boards for the International Journal of Phytoremediation and Microbial Biotechnology and is a member of the American Society for Microbiology, Society for Industrial Microbiology and International Phytotechnology Society.

A Dutch native, van der Lelie earned a doctorate in mathematics and sciences with a specialization in biology and a master's degree in biology from the University of Groningen, The Netherlands. He also earned a master's in business administration from the University of Ghent.


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