NSF PR 99-56 - September 23, 1999
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NSF Grants Provide Boost to Research on Inner Workings
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is providing
a boost to plant biology research through 15 grants
totaling $62 million over the next five years.
"The awards [from the second year of the NSF Plant
Genome Research Program: Collaborative Research and
Infrastructure Projects] will continue to build on
some of the exciting advances coming out of the work
funded last year," says Mary Clutter, assistant
director of NSF for biological sciences. "We
can now begin to gain a comprehensive understanding
of the functions of the genes required for normal
plant development. In addition to advancing basic
plant biology, this kind of work is the foundation
of ongoing efforts toward the rapid and systematic
development of improved crops. Eventual outcomes will
be of importance both to agriculture and to industries
using plant-based materials."
The new research will contribute to a better understanding
at the genome level of the inner workings of all plants,
including economically important crops like maize
(corn), pine, rice, and potato.
Some important crop plants such as maize and wheat
have large, complex genomes. However, only parts of
these genomes contain genes. Scientists are just beginning
to find out where the genes are and how they are organized.
At Iowa State University, research will focus on detailed
mapping of new genetic markers in maize. Research
funded at the University of Wisconsin at Madison will
provide an optical map of the rice genome currently
being sequenced as part of an international project.
This is a first step toward developing a comprehensive
understanding of the organization of this genome.
Complementary research funded at Purdue University
and Rutgers University will tie together gene content
and organization in of the barley, maize, rice, sorghum
and wheat genomes.
A first step in discovering the functions of individual
plant genes will be to find out when and where they
are "turned on" during the life of the plant.
Research funded at the University of Pennsylvania
and The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville,
Maryland, will study such gene expression on a chromosome
and genome-wide scale. This information will be invaluable
in getting the first snapshots of how plants develop
at the molecular level, researchers believe.
Unlike animal cells, plant cells are surrounded by
walls largely made of cellulose. The properties of
plant cell walls have a dramatic impact on the structure
and quality of plant products. It is the materials
in plant cell walls that constitute the bulk of wood
and wood-based products. However, our knowledge of
how these walls are made and assembled is still in
its infancy. Research funded at Michigan State University
will focus on how components of the cell wall are
made in Arabidopsis and maize. Research funded at
North Carolina State University will examine the genes
related to changes in wood quality in loblolly pine.
Pines are an economically important crop in the U.S.
and yield the bulk of wood pulp for paper products.
An understanding of the genes influencing wood formation
will eventually allow breeding of trees with enhanced
properties for wood and pulp production.
Some interactions between plants and microorganisms
are not beneficial to the plant and lead to crop losses.
Work at the University of California at Davis will
examine plant genes involved in resistance to pathogens.
Studies of the structure and function of these genes
in the model plant Arabidopsis will be extended to
soybean, rice and maize, allowing the development
of tools for manipulation of plant disease resistance.
Research at the University of California at Berkeley
will focus on developing additional tools for analyzing
the response of potato to late potato blight, caused
by a fungal pathogen. Late potato blight is a serious
threat to production of potato, a crop of worldwide
For more information on FY99 Awards for Plant Genome
Research Program Collaborative Research and Infrastructure
Projects, see: http://www.nsf.gov/bio/pubs/awards/genome99.htm