NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Michigan State University scientists will use a $4.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to fund functional genomics-based studies to understand how plants create and evolve chemicals and metabolic functions.
The research will focus on cultivated and wild tomato species from the Andes Mountains, and will seek to discover the specific genes that control chemical evolution and plant metabolism.
The scientists are particularly interested in how plants have evolved chemicals that protect them from the effects of their environment.
"Plants are amazing biochemists as they make hundreds of thousands of compounds, yet we don't know how most of these chemical compounds are produced by the plant or the role of these metabolites in the natural history of species across the kingdom," explained Robert Last, MSU Barnett Rosenberg Chair of Biochemistry, said in a statement.
"We hope to tie together the chemical phenotypes with selective pressures, including climate, insects and pathogens, to see how their reactions have evolved in the wild," Last said.
The research will specifically focus on the function of trichomes, the fine hairs on plants involved in their smell and taste. Knowledge of how these structures function at the molecular level could be used to develop strategies to make plants more resistant to disease and insect damage, and to help increase crop productivity.