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NSF Awards New Projects for Plant Genome Research

October 26, 2010

Projects will better define plant responses to changing environments caused by various factors, including climate change, fungal pathogens and drought, and will yield knowledge of the genetics of economically important plants

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has made 28 new awards totaling $101.9 million during the 13th year of its Plant Genome Research Program (PGRP).

These awards–which range from $634,000 to $9.6 million over two to five years–support research and tool development to further knowledge of genome structure and function. They will leverage sequence and functional genomics resources to advance understanding of gene function and interactions between genomes and the environment in economically important crop plants such as corn, cotton, rice, soybean, tomato and wheat.

“These projects will provide new insights into how changes in plant genomes translate into changes in growth and development in a range of environments,” said Joann Roskoski, NSF’s acting assistant director for the Biological Sciences. “Basic research leads to new discoveries that will improve the quality and yield of crop plants, and in the longer term, to innovations that will support the bio-based economy of the 21st century.”

The new awards–made to 42 institutions in 26 states–include collaborating scientists from Asia, Europe and Central America.

First-time recipients of PGRP awards include Alcorn State University, Saint Augustine’s College, Saint Michael’s College, Doane College and the University of Vermont.

The development of a wealth of genomics tools and sequence resources developed over the past 13 years of the PGRP continues to enable exciting, new comparative approaches and predictive modeling to uncover gene networks that regulate plant development and growth in changing environments.

Projects include:

* Research led by teams at New York University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the New York Botanical Garden and the American Museum of Natural History that will build on previous PGRP investments. This research is designed to exploit plant diversity to develop computational tools that will aid in the discovery of genes involved in the evolution of seeds and traits of economic importance in crop plants.

* An interdisciplinary effort led by the University of Maryland at College Park that will use research findings from Arabidopsis studies to guide a study on cell-type specific gene networks in Brassica that mediate responses to drought.

* A multi-institutional project led by researchers at the University of Florida that will utilize environmental, physiological and genetic data to develop a gene-based model that will help plant breeders predict plant performance in a particular environment.

* An interdisciplinary effort led by Michigan State University that will use integrated genetic, genomic, molecular and computational strategies to identify novel genes that regulate carotenoid and vitamin E levels in corn kernels.

* A Research Coordination Network (RCN) of U.S. and international investigators led by the University of Pennsylvania that will work to develop community standards for data collection, deposition and dissemination for the plant epigenomics research communities.

* A research team led by the University of Texas at Austin that will use existing sequence functional genomics resources–and generate new ones–to identify gene networks that regulate fiber development and cellulose biosynthesis in cotton.

* Cutting-edge genomics strategies conducted by research teams at the University of California that will characterize genetic networks that control soybean seed development from embryo inception to seed dormancy.

The PGRP, which was established in 1998 as part of the National Plant Genome Initiative (NPGI) is coordinated by the Interagency Working Group on Plant Genomes of the National Science and Technology Council with representatives from the USDA, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, NSF, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Office of Management and Budget. The PGRP works to advance the understanding of the structure and function of genomes of plants of economic importance.

This year’s awards were selected from a pool of outstanding proposals, many of which leverage data and other resources previously produced with PGRP and/or funding from USDA-Agricultural Research Service, the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the Department of Energy. The interdisciplinary projects, which leverage resources across multiple agencies, highlight the success of the NPGI in enabling transformational research with the potential to address urgent societal needs.

Image 1: The genetics of corn is among the topics that will be covered by the Plant Genome Research Program. An interdisciplinary effort led by Michigan State University will use integrated genetic, genomic, molecular and computational strategies to identify novel genes that regulate carotenoid and vitamin E levels in corn kernels. Credit: Zina Deresky, National Science Foundation

Image 2: The genetics of economically important crops, including rice, soy and Brassica, will be studied under the Plant Genome Research Program. Credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller (rice), Zina Deretsky (soy and Brassica), National Science Foundation

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NSF Awards New Projects for Plant Genome Research