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Award Abstract #1252901

CAREER: Defining the evolutionary trajectory of CAM photosynthesis in Portulacineae (Caryophyllales)

Division Of Environmental Biology
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Initial Amendment Date: February 7, 2013
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Latest Amendment Date: June 28, 2016
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Award Number: 1252901
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Award Instrument: Continuing grant
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Program Manager: Simon Malcomber
DEB Division Of Environmental Biology
BIO Direct For Biological Sciences
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Start Date: February 15, 2013
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End Date: January 31, 2018 (Estimated)
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Awarded Amount to Date: $800,000.00
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Investigator(s): Erika Edwards erika_edwards@brown.edu (Principal Investigator)
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Sponsor: Brown University
BOX 1929
Providence, RI 02912-9002 (401)863-2777
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Program Reference Code(s): 1045, 1171, 9169, EGCH
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Program Element Code(s): 1171, 6133


Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM) refers to a set of changes to the photosynthetic pathway that allows plants to grow more efficiently under conditions of drought, high temperatures, and/or low atmospheric CO2. It is biochemically similar to another modification, C4 photosynthesis, but requires fewer structural changes to leaf tissue. We know a great deal about the evolutionary history of the C4 syndrome, and this knowledge has informed efforts to genetically engineer this photosynthetic improvement into crops such as rice. We know virtually nothing about CAM evolution- its genetic underpinnings, its relationship to other plant traits, and whether it is equally likely to evolve in all plant lineages. Here the PI proposes to significantly increase our understanding of how CAM evolves, utilizing a comparative approach and focusing on one horticulturally important plant lineage known for drought tolerance, which includes the cacti. The project involves extensive genetic and ecological analyses, and will also develop a new metric to efficiently screen species for low level CAM activity.

Because this is a CAREER award, all research goals of the project are tightly interwoven into an innovative education program involving undergraduates, graduate students, and post-doctoral researchers at Brown University, and graduate students from Peru. In addition to the basic scientific understanding that will be gained, this project should yield valuable insight into the use of CAM photosynthesis for engineering more drought-resistant crops. Moreover it will build a foundational bridge of scientific collaboration between the United States and Peru, and contribute significantly to capacity building and scientific training in a developing nation.


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Hancock, L
Edwards EJ. "Phylogeny and the inference of evolutionary trajectories," Journal of Experimental Botany, v.65, 2014, p. 3941.

Donoghue MJ
Edwards EJ. "Biome shifting and niche evolution in plants.," Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, v.45, 2014, p. 547.

Edwards EJ, J de Vos, MJ Donoghue. "Brief Communications Arising: Doubtful pathways to cold tolerance in plants," Nature, v.521, 2015, p. doi:10.10. 

Yang X, JC Cushman, AM Borland, EJ Edwards, and 47 others. "A roadmap for research on crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) to enhance sustainable food and bioenergy production in a hotter, drier world.," New Phytologist, v.207, 2015, p. 491.


Please report errors in award information by writing to: awardsearch@nsf.gov.



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