OSU to study what goes on inside the cells of corn and rice

September 6, 2012

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has been named a partner on a $10 million grant that aims to further the understanding of the molecular interactions and genes in crops that include rice and corn.

Over the course of the next five years, OSU will receive about $2.9 million of the grant, which was awarded by the National Science Foundation.

OSU will develop an online database, called a plant reactome, with information about the molecular and genetic interactions in the cells of corn, rice and Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant that's used as a research model. It will also gather scientific literature on the three plants and add it to the database. The university will also study the role of growth hormones in the three plants.

Additionally, OSU researchers will seek to better understand the genes that regulate photosynthesis in the plants as well as the yields in corn and rice when they're stressed by mineral deficiencies, drought and salt.

Three plants were selected because their reference genomes have been sequenced completely and share many similar genes with major commercial crops, said Pankaj Jaiswal, a plant biologist who is overseeing OSU's part in the project. For example, rice and corn are related to wheat and barley. Likewise, Arabidopsis, a member of the mustard family, is similar to canola and sunflowers.

The database that OSU puts together will become part of a larger online database known as Gramene and is accessible to anyone. The research portal contains genetic information about various crops such as foxtail millet, grapes, poplar trees, sorghum, soybeans and tomatoes. 

As part of the $10 million grant, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York and other collaborators will add more genetic information about these crops to the Gramene database. With annotated and curated data online in one place, Gramene's goal is to make it easier for plant breeders and other scientists to conduct their own research and gather support for their hypotheses.

As a community outreach component of the project, OSU will organize workshops and webinars to teach scientists and students how to use Gramene.

Jaiswal hopes that the research and sharing of knowledge will contribute toward the development of crops that yield more and resist diseases better. These improvements, he said, would ultimately benefit farmers and help feed the world's growing population.

Other partners in the grant include the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, the European Bioinformatics Institute, and the American Society of Plant Biologists.

More information on the grant is available from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and the National Science Foundation.

Author: Tiffany Woods
Source: Pankaj Jaiswal