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USDA Grants $40M to UC-Davis

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Department of Agriculture has awarded nearly $40 million to fund two genomics research projects led by the University of California-Davis that will study the effects of climate changes on two crop plants and will sequence and use the genomes of coniferous trees to develop their potential for use as biofuels.

Funded under the National Institute of Food and Agriculture program, these grants include $25 million to develop new varieties of wheat and barley and $14.6 million to sequence the genomes of the loblolly pine, the sugar pine, and the Douglas fir.

“In one of these exciting projects, a team of researchers will tease out the impacts of changes in climate on crop yields and identify genetic loci that can be incorporated in breeding of barley and wheat to tolerate changes that accompany change in climate,” Roger Beachy, director of USDA’s NIFA program, said in a statement.

“The second research team will generate and use genomics information to provide an understanding of genes and genetics in conifers to help in developing new bioenergy sources,” he added. “Each of these projects feature transdisciplinary, regional, integrated teams, including scientists from institutions that represent underserved populations - an approach that represents a new paradigm in how USDA science can best solve critical issues facing agriculture today.”

The $25 million for wheat and barley research project team specifically will identify gene variants linked to disease resistance, water and nitrogen use efficiency, and yield improvement in an effort to mitigate the impacts of climate variability.

The five-year Triticeae Coordinated Agricultural Project (T-CAP) is composed of 55 researchers, breeders, and educators in 21 states. The project also will develop a Plant Breeding Education Network to train 30 doctoral students in plant breeding and will provide plant education programs for 100 undergraduate students.

Under the $14.6 million award, UC Davis will lead the Loblolly Pine Genome Coordinated Agricultural Project, which will include researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Oakland Research Institute, Washington State University, Texas A&M University, Indiana University, and the University of Maryland.

The pine germplasm for the studies will be provided through the efforts of North Carolina State University and the Virginia Department of Forestry. The sequences of these pine genomes, which may be as much as 10 times the size of the human genome, will be used to enhance these plants’ uses as feedstocks for biofuels and biopower. Using fast-growing trees such as loblolly pine for fuels also can contribute to carbon sequestration and may help mitigate the effects of climate change, USDA said.

Both of these awards were granted through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, a competitive grant program that was established in 2008.