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News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, manager, (515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777

07-01-04

Contacts:

Stephen Howell, Plant Sciences Institute, (515) 294-5267

Teddi Barron, News Service, (515) 294-4778

New Plant Sciences Institute research targets Iowa ag issues

AMES, Iowa - Iowa State University's Plant Sciences Institute will redirect more than $3 million to fast track research that will enhance the value of Iowa crops and target specific challenges facing Iowa agriculture.

Over the next three years, the institute will draw upon researchers' existing strengths in genomics, bioinformatics, plant metabolism and molecular breeding to work on five research initiatives (plant genomes, plant biofactories, nutrition, biorenewables and crop protection).

"The research initiatives are a new way of doing business at the institute. They are intended to 'push the envelope' of plant sciences research at Iowa State," said Stephen Howell, institute director.

Each initiative includes more than one project. Interdisciplinary research teams of faculty, staff and students are being created expressly to tackle each project.

Research teams will:

  • Develop plant oils for use as biobased products and bioenergy
  • Develop a plant that helps reduce the risk of obesity and type II diabetes
  • Identify the molecular mechanisms involved in soybean rust fungus, and those in
  • soybeans that successfully fight the disease
  • Identify the molecular mechanisms responsible for hybrid vigor (heterosis), one of the
  • most important components of production in corn
  • Develop a method for high-level production of biopharmaceuticals in plants
  • Develop improved process technologies for extraction and separation of biopharmaceuticals

"Directors of the centers in the institute identified research areas that make efficient and focused use of our resources and, at the same time, have the potential of transforming the agricultural economy of Iowa," Howell said. "The initiatives address one or both major component of crop value--grain quality and production."

The five research initiatives are described below.

Plant genomes

Institute scientists will use large-scale gene expression profiling technologies to scan whole plant genomes for new genes that may improve plant nutrition, tolerance to stress or resistance to pests. These molecular tools will aid them in identifying genes that were used in developing high-yelding varieties, and to understand in molecular terms one of the most important components of yield in corn, heterosis or hybrid vigor.

Plant biofactories

Scientists will address the technical, safety and regulatory issues that limit plant-made pharmaceutical production in Iowa. Research projects will address novel plant expression systems, efficient methods to extract and purify biopharmaceuticals and better field confinement of plants and pollen. In cooperation with Iowa State's Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Plants, researchers will analyze and communicate the benefits and risks of producing biopharmaceuticals in plants.

Nutrition

Researchers will work to enhance the nutritional value of plant products in food and feed. They will use global gene expression and metabolic profiling technologies to identify genes in soybeans that optimize protein and oil production. They also aim to develop foods such as slow sugar-release starch that combats obesity and type II diabetes.

Biorenewables

Institute scientists will use the tools of biotechnology to tailor feedstocks for biobased products and bioenergy production. They will join forces with faculty working within Iowa State's bioeconomy initiative to develop soybean oils that will work well as fuels and lubricants. They also will study alternative crops, such as perennial grasses, for biomass production, and attempt to develop lignocellulosic (woody) materials that convert more easily to fermentable feedstocks.

Crop protection

Researchers will use biotechnology tools to develop crops that resist disease and pests. Initially, they will focus on soybean rust, an emerging disease with the potential for devastating damage. They will examine the molecular interaction between soybeans and the rust fungus, with the long-term goal of generating an effective control means.

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Quick look

The Plant Sciences Institute is redirecting more than $3 million to fast track research that will enhance the value of Iowa Crops and target specific challenges facing Iowa agriculture.

Quote

"The research initiatives are a new way of doing business at the institute. They are intended to 'push the envelope' of plant sciences research at Iowa State,"

Stephen Howell