UGA plant scientists have received more than $19 million in new grant funding from the National Science Foundation. Five research teams at the university will use these funds to explore the growth, development and behavior of a variety of plants, including sunflowers, maize, legumes, dogwoods, soybeans and tomatoes.
Working as part of UGA’s Plant Center, the researchers hope that these projects will accelerate the development of improved plant varieties used in both agriculture and industry.
“One of the strengths of our faculty is the diverse range of crop and tree species that we work on,” said C.J. Tsai, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and director of UGA’s Plant Center. “These newly funded projects are a testament to the Plant Center’s breadth and the opportunities it affords, not only for basic science advancement and education, but also agriculture crop improvement.”
A team led by John Burke, professor of plant biology in UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, received $4.1 million to study sunflowers and the genetic processes that make plants resistant to drought, soil salinization and low nutrient availability. These stresses affect plant growth and development, and they reduce crop productivity. While wild plants like sunflowers have adapted to many of these challenges, crops are often less resilient. The research conducted in this project will have important practical outcomes that will ultimately facilitate the production of more resilient crop varieties.
Kelly Dawe, a Distinguished Research Professor of Plant Biology and Genetics, received $4.6 million to lead a team that hopes to better understand the critical role of centromeres, which are the structural regions of plant genomes that ensure chromosomes segregate properly during cell division.
A research team led by Scott Jackson, a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and professor of crop and soil sciences in UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, received $742,000 to understand the genetic basis of adaptation in common beans and runner beans.
James Leebens-Mack, a professor of plant biology, is leading a team that will create the first complete genome sequence for dogwoods. They received a $1.4 million grant that ultimately will help plant breeders use genetic markers to guide cultivation of new dogwood varieties that are both beautiful and strong.
A team led by Wayne Parrott, a professor of crop and soil sciences, received $3.4 million to create molecular tools that will make it easier for geneticists and plant breeders to identify and study the function of genes associated with desirable traits in soybeans.
Esther van der Knaap, a professor of horticulture who recently joined UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, is using a $4.9 million grant to continue research she began at Ohio State University on tomato fruit quality. Her laboratory will analyze genome sequence data for a mixture of wild, semi-domesticated and cultivated tomatoes to identify the genes that control important fruit traits such as flavor, size, color and firmness.