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Danforth Lands $1.3M for Maize Genetics

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Scientists at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Mo., will lead a collaborative effort with three US universities to discover the genetic interactions in maize that may be involved in the crop's ability to adapt to a range of regional conditions, the center said this week.

Funded with a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the Danforth researchers will partner with teams at the University of Minnesota, Purdue University, and Cornell University on the project.

Led by Danforth Assistant Member Ivan Baxter, a US Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service research scientist, the study aims to identify how different genes interact with mineral nutrients and toxic elements from various soils in order to discover how different soil types affect maize.

Although maize is grown in a range of environments around the planet, due to its high genetic and phenotypic diversity, how it adapts to different soil conditions is not well understood. The aim of this project is to use genetic knowledge to develop a more nutritious maize crop that can grow in more environments with less fertilizer, which can damage the environment.

The team will focus on using a resource called the Nested Association Mapping population to identify the genes that control the elemental composition of maize.

"The USDA-ARS lab at the Danforth Center can rapidly analyze large genetic populations of the diverse staple crop with the statistically powerful resource of Nested Association Mapping," Baxter said in a statement. "The grant addresses issues critical for agriculture, the environment and human health and will further our understanding of how soil conditions affect the elemental composition of maize."

This project also includes an educational component. Student and teacher internships will be sponsored in St. Louis, St. Paul, Minn., and Ithaca, NY, and educational resources will be developed to help high school teachers incorporate bioinformatics and plant molecular biology in the classroom. The participants also will mentor high school students in science through eScience, a program that links students to scientists.

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