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NSF Awards $43.8M to Determine Gene Function in Arabidopsis

NEW YORK, Oct. 4 – The National Science Foundation has awarded a total of $43.8 million to 28 projects that will seek to determine how each of Arabidopsis thaliana’s 25,000 genes function by 2010.

"While the task is daunting, it is also essential to this growing area of biotechnology research and its many applications," NSF director, Rita Colwell, said in a statement. "Only by understanding the fundamental processes of each gene can we piece together the puzzle of how DNA determines, for example, the rate of growth, resistance to disease, and many other factors in plants."

The winners of the "2010 Project" were selected from 106 proposals and include 43 institutions in 20 states. The grants are for four years.

Noting Arabidopsis’ role as the plant analog of the laboratory mouse, the NSF said that understanding how the plant’s genes function would have implications for agriculture, medicine, and energy.

" Arabidopsis is a useful model because its entire genome consists of a relatively small set of genes that dictate when the weed will bud, bloom, sleep or seed," the NSF said. "Compared to other plants, Arabidopsis also has far fewer ‘junk’ DNA sequences that contain no genes. And the functional genes have counterparts in plants with much larger genomes, such as wheat, corn, rice, cotton ,and soybean."

Grant recipients, including a project between New York University, the University of California-San Diego, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will apply the latest bioinformatic software tools to populate a publicly accessible web database cataloguing gene functions related to nitrogen metabolism.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill will look at 10 Arabidopsis genes believed to play a role in a particular disease-resistance pathway.

And, the University of Texas at Austin will take a systematic approach to automating the production of recombinant inbred strains of Arabidopsis . This will help plant scientists to map and identify genes in local wild populations of Arabidopsis , which has many variants across the world.

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