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USDA Awards $9M in Crop Improvement NIFA Grants

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Department of Agriculture has pumped nearly $9 million into a score of new research grants to fund efforts to use genomics, genetics, and other approaches to enhance crop plants.

Funded by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the grants to multiple universities across the US will support efforts to improve plant breeding through cultivar development, prebreeding and germplasm enhancement, related-species introgression, and novel phenotypng techniques.

Most of these NIFA Agricultural and Food Research Initiative awards fall in the average range of $400,000 to $500,000, although a few are around $300,000 and one is award is $150,000.

"The knowledge gained from the work funded today will allow us to successfully face challenges in food security, bioenergy, climate change, and global competition," NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy said in a statement.

Two investigators at the University of California, Riverside received a $450,000 grant to develop a high-density SNP genotyping array that citrus breeders could use to improve breeding efficiency.

The tool will enable investigators to determine the SNPs present in a citrus variety or a hybrid and to relate them to traits in the individual specimens that are being studied.

"We will use this tool to study essentially all trees in our Citrus Variety Collection and several large citrus families in which individuals vary for traits of economic importance," explained Mikeal Roose, UCR professor and principal investigator on the grant, said in a statement. "We will then correlate the particular SNPs carried by an individual to measured traits such as disease resistance and fruit quality."

An investigator at the Agricultural Research Service in California received a $500,000 award to develop a high-throughput screening method for assessing the severity of a disease called Verticillum wilt in lettuce, which has been damaging crops along the California coast.

A team at the University of California, Davis received a $400,000 award to develop a genotyping-by-sequencing approach aimed at providing a detailed view of the genetic diversity of beans. The investigators also will develop high-throughput genomic resources for beans, including new molecular markers, and will launch new breeding efforts to develop bean varieties that are more tolerant to heat and drought.

University of Florida, Gainesville investigators have received a $450,000 award to use genome-wide selection prediction models to predict breeding performance and to identify ideal mates for breeding better and more disease-resistant forest trees.

Texas A&M University researchers received a $500,000 grant to fund efforts using an integrated RNA-seq approach to develop a genetic map of SNPs, fiber trait quantitative trait loci (QTL), QTLs of expressed genes, and SNP markers linked to fiber-related traits in cotton. The aim is to develop tools for enhancing cotton breeding and to create a golden standard genome sequence for Upland cotton.

Information about the complete list of new NIFA grants is available at the USDA NIFA site.