As the global population continues to increase, scientists and farmers are concerned about the impacts that climate change could have on the world's crops. See more in this video.
Credit: National Science Foundation & NBC Learn
The wine industry is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry, but it could be in serious danger due to climate change. Scientists Grant Cramer and Anne Fennell are studying how different grape varieties respond to harsher conditions such as drought and spring frost. See more in this video.
Credit: National Science Foundation & NBC Learn
An international consortium of scientists has produced a new map of the potato genome that may lead to the development of an ultra-nutritious potato that could help feed the world's hungry. Find out more in this news release.
Credit: C. Robin Muell, Michigan State University
Soybean is one of the most important global sources of protein and oil. Soybean was also the first major crop of the legume species with a published complete draft genome sequence. This sequence, which essentially provides a parts list of the soybean genome, will help scientists use the plant's genes to improve its characteristics. Find out more in this news release.
Credit: Stephen Ausmus. Public domain from USDA Agricultural Research Service Image Gallery
A high-quality sequence of the maize (corn) genome was completed in November 2009. It reports the sequence of genes in maize and provides a detailed physical map of the maize genome. This map identifies the order in which genes are located along each of maize's 10 chromosomes and the physical distances between those genes. Find out more in this news release.
Credit: David Cavagnaro with assistance from Lois Girton and Marianne Smith
Most of us take it for granted that plants respond to light by growing, flowering and straining towards the light, and we never wonder just how plants manage to do so. But the ordinary, everyday responses of plants to light are deceptively complex, and much about them has long stumped scientists. Find out more in this news release.
Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation
The Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) of the Biological Sciences Directorate supports research aimed at an integrative understanding of organisms. The goal is to predict why organisms are structured the way they are, and function as they do.
Whatever does not kill a plant may actually make it stronger. After being partially eaten by grazing animals, for example, some plants grow bigger and faster and reproduce more successfully than they otherwise would.
A biosensor using black platinum and carbon nanotubes developed at Purdue University could help give scientists a better understanding of how the plant hormone auxin regulates root growth and seedling establishment.
Scientists have created a new computational model that can be used to predict gene function of uncharacterized plant genes with unprecedented speed and accuracy.
February 13, 2012
Developing Hardier, Weather-resistant Crops
Botanist searches for genes that would make a better root
At first, the back room of plant physiologist Edgar Spalding's lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison might be mistaken for an alien space ship set straight out of a Hollywood movie. It's a room bathed in low-red light with camera lenses pointing at strange looking entities encased in Petri dishes.
A closer inspection reveals the Petri dishes contain nothing alien at all, but rather very down-to-earth corn seedlings. They're grown in red light for optimal growth. They're just one of the plants featured in thousands of time-lapse movies Spalding has created over the past five years. The goal: figure out how to grow crops optimally suited to survive, and thrive.
"We can't hope to improve a plant unless we understand it well," says Spalding. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Spalding is exploring just what makes plants tick. He says the key is to study the function of each of the thousands of genes that make up the plants' DNA. "One way to do that is to collect images of those plants that have those genes altered in some way. And by measuring how those plants grow and develop differently," says Spalding.
"We are able to infer the function of the gene that's been manipulated," he continues. Researchers have created thousands of genetically different corn plants. Spalding uses specially rigged cameras to snap pictures every 30 seconds or so of the plants' roots as they grow.
He also uses a six-foot high robotic camera that's capable of shooting dozens of roots at once. "We have made hundreds of thousands of measurements from thousands of different plants. Let's say we had a ruler, we'd probably be on number two... maybe," he says with a chuckle. The time-lapse movies are loaded into a computer and an algorithm measures cellular growth rates in the root with pinpoint accuracy, as well as the angle and curvature of the root tip.
"By using this so-called computer vision or machine vision to track [the plants] growth and development, we can get at the genes that control root growth and those hopefully will have fundamental importance to crop improvement. It lays the foundation for discoveries that will help improve plants for human purposes."
Spalding is sowing the seeds for better crops of the future. It's an idea he thinks is worth growing.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.