Dr. Laura Kavanaugh, PhD

Dr. Laura Kavanaugh, PhD

Dr. Laura Kavanaugh, PhD

Speaker | Genome Insights LLC

Hillsborough, NC | laura.kavanaugh@genomeinsights.com

Dr. Laura Kavanaugh is an engineer, scientist and entrepreneur. She has degrees in Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University and holds a Ph.D. from the University Program in Genetics and Genomics from Duke University. She has had a varied and extensive career which includes over 13 years working in the Space Shuttle Mission Control Center in Houston, TX and over 10 years working for Syngenta Biotechnology in Research Triangle Park, NC, working on bioinformatics, DNA sequencing, and soil microbes. She is currently founder and CEO of Genome Insights LLC which applies the latest DNA sequencing technologies to enhance regenerative farming and large composting operations. She also oversees the compost and liquid biological amendment operations for Union Grove Farm Vineyard in Chapel Hill, NC. The vineyard uses regenerative farming methods to grow a new seedless variety of muscadine table grape.

Session Code: E4

Track: Markets, Marketing and Uses

Session Name: Matching Compost to Specs

Session Time: Thursday, Jan 26, 8:30 – 10:00 AM

Presentation Title: Tuning Compost for Specific Crops using DNA Sequencing

Presentation Description: Compost is often produced in a “one size fits all” fashion. However, new cutting-edge DNA sequencing methods are emerging that allow compost to be customized to meet the needs of specific crops. For example, brassica crops recruit a bacteria-rich root community whereas grape vines recruit a root community high in fungal species. Tuning compost to address these plant preferences has the potential to expand compost markets to large-scale farming operations. Compost offers many benefits over fertilizers by delivering the biology that reestablishing the plant-microbe relationship that has been disrupted by conventional farming practices. Microbes in the soil deliver nutrients in plant available form, create soil structure that provides drought resistance, produce nutrient dense foods, and enable plants to resist insects and pathogens.  Demonstrating the presence and relative abundance of microbial species contained in compost through DNA sequencing creates new opportunities for the composting industry, especially during these times of escalating fertilizer prices. In this talk, I will describe how DNA sequencing is being applied to tune compost for production of a novel seedless muscadine table grape at a vineyard in North Carolina. I will share details of our on-farm composting and liquid extract operations and how we are exploring the use of DNA sequencing to dial-in these amendments to maximize grape yields. The long-term goal is to demonstrate the value of DNA sequencing for optimization and customization of compost for agricultural applications. Another goal is to enhances the image of the composting industry in the eyes of consumers and transform it from being perceived as a “homespun” industry to a high-tech industry delivering high-value, scientifically based products that merit a premium price.