Transforming Agriculture, Perennially


Ebony Murrell

Lead Scientist, Crop Protection Ecology

A rural Midwesterner at heart, Ebony grew up in the small town of Assumption, Illinois. She earned a B.S. in Biology at Illinois Wesleyan University; then went to Illinois State University where she earned an M.S. in Biology  (with a sequence in Conservation Biology); and, in 2012, a Ph.D. in Biology (studying ecological succession in mosquito communities). From there, she went on to become a postdoc, first at UW-Madison, then at Penn State. As a postdoc, she became involved with agroecology and fell in love with the idea that farmers can (and do) use ecological concepts to manage soil, pests, and crop productivity.

Ebony has an appreciation for the devotion of TLI’s research team to both the breeding and the ecology of agronomic systems. Crop genetics and the management of the crops must both be optimized if the crop is to succeed. She says, “It’s not every day that a scientist gets the opportunity to design IPM (integrated pest management) strategies and sustainable agronomic practices for brand new crop species. I feel very fortunate to be a part of such a pioneering team.” Read Ebony’s “Interview with a Plant Scientist”.

Learn more about Ebony’s research here.


What would people never guess that you do as part of your role at TLI?
I spend a great deal of time in the laboratory trying to rear the very insect pests we’re trying to kill in the field. This involves building housing for them, cleaning up after them, and sometimes even cooking special food for them! Having lab colonies of the major pests makes it much easier to test pest management strategies on a small scale before we apply the most promising strategies in the field.

What TLI perennial crop do you look forward to eating most, and how would you prepare it?
I have tasted Kernza®, and I think it’s delicious. I would like to try brewing my own Kernza®beer. I would also like to set up a couple of honeybee hives near the Silphium fields and try Silphium honey. Who knows what that tastes like?!?

What’s one aspect of your life history that most people don’t know or wouldn’t expect?
I resisted the idea of becoming a scientist for many years. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy science; I was just incredibly insecure in my own abilities. I thought that you had to be a genius in order to formulate interesting research questions. I was surprised when I began my graduate studies to learn how much fun designing experiments can be.

What else are you passionate about (outside of work)?
Singing, writing science song parodies, making and canning my own sauces and jams, hiking, and dog training.

What’s your motto / favorite quote?
I grew up in the same community as Jack Erisman, who is now a TLI farmer collaborator (small world!). As a child, I once heard him say, “Anyone can make a living, but few people can make a difference.” I’ve always loved that quote and I think it’s a wonderful motto to live by.

What were you like at age 10?
I was a geek, a tomboy, and an animal lover. I am still all of these things, although thankfully my social skills have improved greatly.

Support the work of Ebony and others at The Land Institute with a donation.


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