Foundation Award for Research

Cyren Rico

Cyren Rico

Chemistry and Biochemistry
College of Natural and Applied Sciences

I. Focus of Research

The goal of my research is to use analytical chemistry to provide a mechanistic understanding of plant-stressor interactions, and to evaluate the implications of this information in the context of environmental integrity, human health and society. I have strong background and broad experience in environmental science, analytical chemistry, and plant/agricultural science. It is in the overlapping realm of these disciplines that I do research to help train future scientists and address questions relevant to science and society. Our research group works on understanding the benefits and risks of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) as well as the hazards of emerging contaminants. Emerging contaminants is a class of pollutants whose human and environmental impacts are not well understood. These contaminants include ENMs, organofluorinated compounds, micro or nanoplastics, brominated flame retardants, disinfectant byproducts, and other seemingly benign chemicals such as sucralose, artificial sweeteners, antibiotics, and sunscreens. We routinely assay stress responses and elemental profile in plants, and metabolomic changes and generational impacts of emerging contaminants to investigate epigenetic changes in plants. Understanding the environmental behavior of contaminants could lead to their effective remediation in the environment. Similarly, understanding plant-nanomaterial interaction could lead to improved applications of engineered nanoparticles in various fields. 

II. Major Projects

  • 2018 – present: Generational exposure of plants to contaminants
  • 2024 – present: Liquid chromatography – Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS) metabolites analysis in plants
  • 2018 – present: Metabolomics of plants exposed to emerging contaminants
  • 2014 – 2018:  Synchrotron analysis of speciation of engineered nanomaterials
  • 2010 – present: Inductively Coupled Plasma – Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) elemental analysis in environmental samples
  • 2010 – present: Physiology, productivity, and nutritional value of globally important agricultural crops (rice, wheat, barley, corn, cucumber, cilantro, tomato, green peas, soybean, alfalfa) exposed to contaminants (engineered nanomaterials, perfluoroalkyl substances)

III. Future Directions of Research

I will continue to work on the interactions of plants to emerging contaminants. In particular, I will explore transcriptomics and DNA methylations in plants generationally-exposed to contaminants. I will explore the mechanism of how engineered nanoparticles can be used to improve agricultural productivity. I want to investigate contaminants in karst, caves, and springs especially since this is a huge resource in Springfield, Missouri. I also plant to have stronger collaborations with researchers here at MSU or outside research institutions.

IV. Topics related to your research and of interest to the broad University Community, for which you are available for presentations and/or consultations.

Water quality, plant productivity, metabolomics, epigenetics, crop nutritional value, biologically-persistent radicals in plants, and synchrotron, ICP-MS, and LC-MS techniques