Stephen Howell, Plant Sciences Institute, (515) 294-5267
Teddi Barron, News Service, (515) 294-4778
Iowa State's Plant Sciences Institute awards innovative research grants
AMES, Iowa -- Iowa State University's Plant Sciences Institute has awarded start-up funding to seven innovative research projects.
The two-year grants were awarded to Iowa State faculty through a
competitive program intended to stimulate excellence in plant science
research. Grant amounts are between $25,000 and $30,000 per year for a
maximum of two years.
The projects relate to the institute's research initiatives, which target specific challenges facing Iowa agriculture and the plant bioscience industry. The initiatives are in the areas of genomics, biopharmaceuticals, nutrition, biorenewables and crop protection.
Criteria for selection included scientific merit, potential impact, innovation and probability to lead to future funding or to produce clearly defined products or services that will enhance the value of Iowa's crops.
"We're pleased to initiate these quality research projects. They have great potential for contributing to the advancement of plant science research for the benefit of Iowa agriculture," said Stephen Howell, director of the Plant Sciences Institute.
The research projects are described below.
- Thomas Harrington, professor of plant pathology and natural
resource ecology and management, will develop DNA markers to track the
movement of Asian soybean rust in the United States. These genetic tools
will be useful to characterize the diversity of the rust fungus population
as it becomes established and new races appear in the United States. The
project will complement ongoing research in the institute's crop protection
initiative to identify genes in soybean that are activated in
response to rust fungus infection.
- Martha James, adjunct associate professor in biochemistry, biophysics
and molecular biology, will lead a team to enhance the nutritional quality
of starch-containing foods in a project in the institute's nutrition
initiative. The team plans to develop a resistant or slower digestible
starch to help combat type 2 diabetes and obesity, the two fastest growing
health problems in the United States. Resistant starch will prevent the
rapid rise in blood glucose levels, slow insulin release and reduce caloric
availability. The researchers will focus on a form of starch developed at
ISU (LCAPS) that has potential as a resistant starch. They will test the
starch's performance in the laboratory by characterizing its structural and
functional properties and its digestibility. They also will assess its
performance by measuring effects on the glycemic index of food or food
products in feeding trials with adult humans, in comparison with starches
from normal maize and wheat.
- Soybeans are very efficient in
packing soy proteins in their seeds. Diane Bassham, assistant professor of
genetics, development and cell biology, will investigate ways to use that
packaging system to store therapeutic proteins made in the seeds of soybean
plants engineered to produce biopharmaceuticals. This project is part of an
overall initiative to produce high-value proteins for pharmaceutical use in
- Alfalfa is a high-quality forage crop for
livestock in Iowa and could be an important biorenewable feedstock for the
production of bioenergy and industrial products. As a project in the
institute's genomics research initiative, Charles Brummer, associate
professor of agronomy, will identify genes associated with heterosis (hybrid
vigor), yield and autumn dormancy. Brummer will use Iowa State's GeneChip
facility to search through thousands of genes in the alfalfa genome to find
expression patterns associated with genes that may boost yields or improve
winter hardiness. The research complements a major project in the
institute's genomics research initiative to understand the molecular basis
for heterosis in corn.
- Julie Dickerson, associate professor of
electrical and computer engineering, will lead an effort to launch a public
database for large-scale soybean gene expression data. Called SoyPLEX, it
will be the first resource for soybean scientists that integrates new and
rapidly expanding gene-expression profile data sets with traditional
structural genomics and phenotypic data. SoyPLEX will facilitate many
different tasks using a single Web interface that is easily accessible to
the large international community of soybean researchers interested in gene
- Plant stress causes the greatest loss of crops
worldwide. Losses from floods, pathogens, ground-level ozone and exposure to
pollutants generally result from oxidative stress caused by the build up of
harmful oxygen species in plants. Although scientists believe that
hemoglobins, the same proteins that carry oxygen in our bodies, protect
healthy plant cells from harmful oxygen species, they do not fully
understand how. Mark Hargrove, associate professor of biochemistry,
biophysics and molecular biology, will investigate corn hemoglobins to
understand how they are involved in plant responses to oxidative stress. The
project is part of the institute's crop protection initiative.
- A major goal of the institute's biopharmaceutical research initiative is
to produce a protein in feed corn to bolster pig immune responses and to
strengthen swine vaccines. This project will address Porcine Reproductive
Respiratory Syndrome, a disease that costs the swine industry $600
million annually. Current vaccines are not highly effective in controlling
the disease. Chad Stahl, assistant professor of animal science, and Dr. Hank
Harris, professor of animal science and veterinary diagnostic and production
animal medicine, will evaluate the vaccine's performance in pigs fed corn
genetically engineered at Iowa State to produce the immune-stimulating
protein. If successful, this strategy might help curtail the use of
antibiotics in livestock production.
The Plant Sciences Institute
at Iowa State University is dedicated to becoming one of the world's leading
plant science research institutes. More than 200 faculty from the College of
Agriculture, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the College of Family
and Consumer Sciences and the College of Engineering conduct research in
nine centers of the institute. They seek fundamental knowledge about plant
systems 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
The Plant Sciences Institute supports the training of students
for exciting career opportunities and promotes new technologies to aid in
the economic development of agriculture and industry throughout the state.
The institute is supported through public and private funding.