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NSF Press Release


NSF PR 03-114 - October 3, 2003

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 Sean Kearns

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 Jane Silverthorne

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 Robert L. Last

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Plant Genome Research Gets $100 Million Boost From NSF
31 new projects on cereals, fruits, legumes, other economically key plants

a panicle of rice
A panicle of rice. Several plant genome research efforts focus on rice.
Credit: Charles Harrington/Cornell University

 Note About Images

ARLINGTON, Va.—Building on advances in genetics technology and integrating a burgeoning collection of biological data, the National Science Foundation today announced 31 new grants in plant genome research, involving 48 different institutions and totaling about $100 million.

NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget that exceeds $5 billion. Its plant genome program examines the structure and function of plant genes, particularly those important to agriculture, environmental concerns, energy and health.

Individually, the two- to five-year projects, awarded to universities across the country, will receive funding ranging from $600,000 to nearly $11 million. Some will focus on the impact of specific genes in a single species. Others will compare the complete genetic sequences of related plants. (A complete list of the awards is available at this web site: .)

For example, researchers at Yale University will use a new, high-throughput method call laser capture microdissection (LCM) to create a "cellular atlas" that will show how individual genes are expressed in rice. A University of Georgia project will use LCM on maize plant cells to trace the gene expression that gives rise to leaves.

Meanwhile, at the University of Nevada, Reno, researchers will use a genomics approach to determine how plants produce natural rubber; and, at the University of Missouri, researchers will use a "proteomics" approach to study how caster bean, soybean and canola plants produce oil.

(Genomics is the study of an organism's entire set of genes, which include the instructions for making its complement of proteins. Proteomics focuses on an organism's inventory of proteins, and how proteins interact to build an organism and allow it to function.)

A project led by Texas A&M University will use the sorghum genome map to tease out the networks of genes that control drought tolerance. A grass that originated in Africa, sorghum is now a key food source worldwide. It has evolved thick waxy leaves and a deep root system that allow it to grow in hot dry climates. Its genome sequence is also similar to those of other important cereals, such as rice, corn and wheat.

Two other projects, led by the University of Illinois and Clemson University, will develop genomic resources for the plant family Rosaceae, which includes apples, pears, peaches, apricots, plums, cherries, almonds, strawberries and raspberries.

According to Mary Clutter, Assistant Director of NSF's Directorate for Biological Sciences, this year's awards take advantage of the fruits of earlier genome projects to extend existing areas of research and to break entirely new ground.

"In key ways, these projects will expand what we know about the biology of the plant kingdom, including plants that have a major impact upon the lives of people around the world," Clutter said. "In a relatively short time, genomics has created massive amounts of data and innovative, adaptable tools for biological research. These now make it possible for scientists, wherever they are, to approach important, challenging questions in new ways."

Among the new projects are six new plant genome "virtual centers," flexible collaborations of investigators at various institutions and of various expertise to focus on a particular research goal. One, for example, will develop a scientific-community resource for studying genome-wide gene expression in maize.

According to Jane Silverthorne, who directs NSF's Plant Genome Research Program, "With these centers, there are no geographical or disciplinary boundaries. They foster interactions with other research efforts, and, as with all of the plant genome projects, they freely share the outcomes of their studies."

Since the Plant Genome Research Program began in 1998, NSF has committed about $375 million to the effort (including this year's new awards.) Currently the program supports 120 projects.


Related NSF web sites:

FY 2003 Awards, NSF Plant Genome Research Program:

Previous news releases on plant genomes:

NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences Plant Genome Project site:

Other pertinent background:
Five-year (2003-2008) plan for the National Plant Genome Initiative (NPGI), issued by the National Science and Technology Council:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.3 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 30,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 10,000 new funding awards. The NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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