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NSF Funds Canola Drought Studies

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The University of Maryland will use a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to lead a multi-center research effort to use genomics to find and develop new ways to make the canola plant (Brassica napus), an oilseed crop that is used as cooking oil and to make biodiesel, more resistant to drought.

"Our ultimate goal is to understand how guard cells, and thus plants, respond to drought," UM Associate Professor of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics June Kwak said in a statement. "We also want to translate this knowledge to generate plants and crop species that are tolerant of drought, plants that could use water more efficiently."

The research will focus on how the guard cells in the plants respond to drought and on changes in RNA molecules, proteins, and metabolites to develop a genome-scale picture of how cellular networks and hormones control the canola plant's reaction to drought.

That data will be coupled with genome sequencing data to map genetic lines in the plant and to identify natural variations in drought sensitivity and the speed at which water evaporates from the plant.

Taken together, this genomic and proteomic data will provide a blueprint for how to improve water use and drought resistance in canola crops.

"Initial studies using guard cell-specific genomic approaches have shown that this type of research leads to important advances and breakthroughs in understanding drought stress signaling in plants," added co-investigator Julian Schroeder, who is a professor in the Section of Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of California, San Diego.

Other partners in the canola genomics effort include scientists at Penn State University, Johns Hopkins University, Colorado State University, and the University of Missouri, Columbia.

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