Dr. Grabau's research interests include biotechnology approaches to crop improvement in legumes, particularly soybeans and peanuts.
Dr. Grabau studies how soybeans and peanuts can be genetically modified to produce better results for the plant, the animals and humans that consume them and the environment. In soybean she has targeted the metabolic pathway for synthesis of phytic acid, the storage form of phosphorus in plant seeds. Altering phytic acid levels will improve phosphorus availability in animal diets. Because phytic acid cannot be readily digested by many animals, it is excreted in waste, applied to soil and eventually enters watersheds such as the Chesapeake Bay. Lowered seed phytic acid will provide a nutrient management tool for livestock producers.
In another project, Dr. Grabau collaborates with a plant pathologist at the Tidewater agricultural research and extension center to combat sclerotinia blight, a devastating fungal disease of peanut. She has introduced the gene for a naturally occurring oxalate oxidase enzyme from barley into peanut to create disease-resistant lines.
A further peanut project involves a biotechnological approach to enhancing peanut nutrition for human consumption. The B9 vitamin folate is important for preventing neural tube defects and other diseases. Dr. Grabau has introduced genes for enzymes involved in folate biosynthesis into peanuts, with the overall goal of creating high folate peanut lines.