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Stephen Howell, Plant Sciences Institute, (515) 294-5267
Teddi Barron, News Service, (515) 294-4778


AMES, Iowa -- Seven innovative research projects with promising futures have received start-up funds from Iowa State University's Plant Sciences Institute.

The two-year grants were awarded to Iowa State faculty through a competitive program intended to stimulate excellence in plant science research. The funding for each project is between $10,000 and $25,000 per year.

"The grants program is integral to the institute's mission of promoting excellence in plant science research through multidisciplinary collaboration," said Stephen Howell, director of the Plant Sciences Institute. "We're very pleased to initiate these quality research projects which have great potential for long-term success."

The research projects are described below.
  • Alexander Aleshin and Richard Honzatko, biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology; and Patrick Schnable, agronomy, will develop a high-throughput process to determine the structure and function of hundreds of plant proteins. Normally, protein structural determination is painstakingly slow and done with one protein at a time. A new, faster survey approach will be undertaken to complement the work done in large-scale genomics studies.

  • Plants have receptor proteins that detect specific stimuli such as the presence of disease-causing microbes. Adam Bogdanove, plant pathology, will begin work on ways to improve disease resistance in plants by examining the specificity of plant pathogen receptors. Modification of the receptors to increase their ability to recognize diverse pathogenic microbes could be an effective way to help control plant diseases.

  • The ability of breeders to improve plant performance over many generations is not well understood. Researchers will study the reshuffling of the oat genome that occurs in response to selection over nine generations for increasing oil content. This will be done to increase understanding and better predict the outcome of selection processes. This research will be conducted by Jean-Luc Jannink and Michael Lee, agronomy, and Rohan Fernando, animal science.

  • Shailesh Lal and Volker Brendel, zoology and genetics, will identify and analyze genes in the model plant Arabidopsis that may be alternatively spliced. Alternative splicing is a process in which some pieces of messenger RNA are linked together differently. Alternative splicing is prevalent in humans and may account for the large amount of genetic information contained in the small number of human genes.

  • Molecular approaches to manipulate seed composition could help meet the growing demand for modified oils and proteins and other plant-based products. However, scientists don't fully understand how seed metabolism is regulated. In this project, researchers will develop a powerful, non-invasive technology to learn more about the metabolic changes that control the flow of carbon in the living seed. This research will be conducted by Jacqueline Shanks, chemical engineering; Martin Spalding, botany; and Mark Westgate, agronomy.

  • Many advances in agricultural biotechnology have resulted from the introduction of genes into plants. In general, it is difficult to predict where introduced genes will end up in a plant genome. Daniel Voytas and Thomas Peterson, zoology and genetics, will develop a technique that will allow researchers to target genes to specific sites in the plant genome. This technology can potentially increase the value of crops and will be useful for understanding basic plant biology.

  • Plants control the expression of their genes (turn specific sets of genes on and off) in several different ways in response to environmental stresses like pathogen infection or heavy metals. In this project, the researchers will develop a method to simultaneously study the expression patterns of thousands of plant genes during different stress conditions and determine how the expression of many of these genes is regulated. This research will be conducted by Steven Whitham and W. Allen Miller, plant pathology, and David Oliver, botany.
The Plant Sciences Institute at Iowa State University, which consists of nine research centers, is supported through public and private funding . Its goal is to become one of the world's leading institutes for plant science research, education and unbiased research-based information. Researchers are developing ways to help feed the growing world population, strengthen human health and nutrition, improve crop quality and yield, foster environmental sustainability and expand the uses of plants for biobased products and bioenergy.


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