Research scientists at North Carolina State University are exploring ways to harness plant fungal symbionts – specifically foliar fungal endophytes – to improve crop resistance to stressors such as drought, pests, and pathogens. Although this project is in an exploratory, basic research phase, the investigators recognized the importance of engaging stakeholders about their perspectives on the potential utility of fungal manipulations on crops.

For additional information about the project—including other project objectives and personnel—see https://hawkeslab.wordpress.ncsu.edu/funcrops/ or the CALS press release.

Support for this project was provided by North Carolina State’s Game-Changing Research Incentive Program for Plant Sciences Initiative (GRIP4PSI).

Authors: S. Kathleen Barnhill-Dilling <skbarnhi@ncsu.edu> & Jason A. Delborne <jadelbor@ncsu.edu>

PI for this project is Christine Hawkes <chawkes@ncsu.edu> Professor, Department of Plant and Microbial Biology


  1. Identify appropriate scales to manage the plant microbiome
  2. Determine how the microbiome affects the plant phenotype, focusing on stress rescue
  3. Build tools for rapid field detection of microbial taxa and traits
  4. Understand regulatory environment and engage stakeholders
    • Focus of GES affiliated project team members

Project Publications

Resources related to the regulatory and stakeholder research (objective 4) being conducted by FUN-CROPS team members affiliated with the GES Center.

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How might bioengineered fungal endophytes be regulated in the U.S.?

Type: Policy Brief
July 2021
Author(s): S. Kathleen Barnhill-Dilling; Jason A. Delborne

This brief focuses on the policy implications of the development of genetically engineered or gene edited foliar fungal endophytes (FFEs), outlining possible regulatory pathways to which these projects may be subject. We begin with an overview of the existing regulatory frameworks that govern biotechnology in the United States; such an outline highlights the different agency mandates that may trigger their oversight of modified FFEs. Secondly, we put forth hypothetical scenarios with various crop species, stressors, and FFE manipulation strategies, and link them to likely regulatory pathways. Using different scenarios will underscore how different transformation and end uses can result in different regulatory oversight. Finally, we will review some of the remaining uncertainties that will ultimately need to be addressed when scientists and developers have a product (or products) ready for deployment. These uncertainties underscore the dynamic nature of biotechnology governance in the United States.

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Stakeholder Perspectives on Modified Foliar Fungal Endophytes

Type: Review paper
Sept 2021
Author(s): S. Kathleen Barnhill-Dilling; Jason A. Delborne

Scholarship that explores the public understanding of and engagement with science and technology highlights the importance of engaging with stakeholders early and often as critical to socially responsible innovation pathways. Within that context, for the purpose of this project, we sought to interview potential stakeholders from a variety of sectors to understand the broad implications of potential products derived from modified foliar fungal endophytes (hereafter FFEs). With the constraints of COVID, we were able to interview (via Zoom) a total of eleven respondents. We interviewed five extension agents, three industry stakeholders, one stakeholder whose role includes both extension and trade organization representative, one policy expert (formally), and one consumer advocacy stakeholder.

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FUN-CROPS: Foliar fungal endophytes for crop sustainability and resilience

Type: PowerPoint presentation
Oct 2020
Author: Christine V. Hawkes

PowerPoint presentation from the FUN-CROPS kickoff meeting held on October 28, 2020.

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