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News Release 07-140

NSF Awards 26 New Grants to Seed Plant Systems Biology

Focus includes genome-enabled research in plants of economic value and development of novel tools

NSF's Plant Genome Research Program funds studies on economically important plants.

NSF's Plant Genome Research Program funds studies on economically important plants.

October 11, 2007

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) has made 26 new awards totaling $85.8 million during the tenth year of its Plant Genome Research Program (PGRP).

These awards--which cover two to five years and range from $400,000 to $7.9 million--support research and tool development to further knowledge of genome structure and function. They will also increase understanding of gene function and interactions between genomes and the environment in economically vital crop plants such as corn, rice and cotton.

"Plant biologists continue to exploit genomics tools and sequence resources in new and innovative ways," said James Collins, NSF assistant director for biological sciences. "It's exciting to see research involving biologists and mathematicians, computer scientists and engineers, all working to address major unanswered questions in plant biology. These latest projects will also have a significant impact on how we train the next generation of plant scientists to carry out research at the cutting edge of the biological sciences."

The new awards--made to 45 institutions in 28 states--include international groups of scientists from Asia, Australia and Europe.

First-time recipients of PGRP awards include Auburn University, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, SUNY Stony Brook, University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Toledo, and University of Virginia.

The wealth of genomics tools and sequence resources developed over the past ten years of the PGRP have opened up exciting, new comparative approaches in plant biology. PGRP researchers continue to uncover gene networks that regulate plant development and growth in concert with environmental signals, such as temperature, light, disease and pests.

These projects include:

  • Researchers at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks are using poplar to develop population genetics tools to identify genes involved in phenotypic variation in bud set, a critical adaptive trait for cold tolerance and growth rate. This project is supported in part by the NSF Office of Polar Programs and includes collaborations with scientists in Canada and Sweden.
  • A project led by Michigan State University is using a combination of computation and functional genomics resources to learn more about low-temperature regulatory networks and factors involved with freezing tolerance in tomato and potato.
  • Washington State University is leading a project that uses biochemical genomics to reveal components of biosynthesis pathways necessary to produce novel fatty acids in oilseeds. Plants are natural producers of non-saturated fatty acids.
  • A project led by Alabama A&M University is working to identify regulatory gene networks responsible for changes in gene expression in response to nematode infection in cotton plants.

PGRP is also continuing to support the development of tools to enable researchers to make breakthroughs in understanding the structure and function of economically important plants -- from the gene level to the whole plant.

Example projects include:

  • A multidisciplinary team of investigators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will develop cutting-edge technology using cameras, robotics and computational tools to enable high-throughput analysis of traits in mutant or naturally varying plant populations.
  • A project led by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is using Arabidopsis and rice genomic resources to produce a plant "interactome," a map of all protein-protein interactions. This map will provide scientists with testable predictions of how genes and the proteins they encode interact to carry out complex functions within a plant cell.

The PGRP, which was established in 1998 as part of the coordinated National Plant Genome Initiative by the Interagency Working Group on Plant Genomes of the National Science and Technology Council, has the long-term goal of advancing the understanding of the structure and function of genomes of plants of economic importance.


Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, email:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2019, its budget is $8.1 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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