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VBI to Lead NSF-Funded Cereal Drought Studies

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech will use a $2.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation to lead an effort to create a drought gene interaction network for rice and maize.

The goal of the three-year systems biology effort is to identify key regulatory genes and signaling pathways that may be used to improve drought resistance.

VBI's collaborators on the project include researchers at Louisiana State University's Agricultural Center and Pennsylvania State University's Plant Pathology branch, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico, and the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.

"We will be looking at the functionality of select drought responsive genes, identified in the interaction network by transferring them into rice," said co-principal investigator Niranjan Baisaikh, an assistant professor at LSU. "The modified rice plants will be evaluated for their growth responses to drought stress under greenhouse simulations that could help our understanding of rice plant biology in the field conditions."

The project also will involve development of a website focused on cereal drought that will provide query and visualization tools, and will enable project members and other users to access project updates, and to study methods and results.

It also will include an outreach component that will feature a mentoring program for postdoctoral researchers, as well as a program to involve undergraduate and high school students and interdisciplinary graduate-level research projects.

"We have been afforded a marvelous opportunity to apply basic research methods to a pressing global problem," added Ruth Grene, a co-principal investigator and professor in Virginia Tech's Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science division.

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