Danforth Center Receives $1 Million Grant from the National Science Foundation

Funds to support advanced research and education programs aimed at gaining a greater understanding of how plants develop.

St. Louis, MO, December 18, 2013 --(PR.com)-- The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center was awarded a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to explore gene regulatory networks that control plant growth and development. The project will develop new genomic resources and high-throughput tools such as robotics to address fundamental questions about the roles of small RNA molecules. Knowledge gained will provide insight into agriculturally important traits, such as leaf architecture.

“This project extends small RNA research that our lab has been doing for many years,” said Jim Carrington, president, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and principal investigator on the grant. “Small RNAs are critical for normal plant growth, responses to environmental changes, and defense against pathogens that cause disease.”

The new project focuses on Argonaute (or AGO) proteins, which physically interact with small RNAs. Land plants have many AGO genes that code for different flavors of AGO proteins. Small RNAs that interact with AGO proteins guide or direct the AGO proteins to act as gene silencing molecules, turning off genes that otherwise would be active.

“Some AGO proteins play critical roles in shutting off certain plant genes that control leaf architecture, and fruit development,” said Carrington. “Other AGO proteins play roles in anti-viral defense, and we want to understand how this specialization works at the molecular and cellular levels.”

The research, which will be done as a collaboration with the laboratory of Martin Yanofsky at the University of California, San Diego, uses the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, which is a well-studied model used by many plant researchers.

For over a decade, new technologies like gene silencing have been used to discover and investigate plant traits to improve crops. Gene silencing technology involving small RNAs has been used in crop plants to provide resistance against viruses and improve oil composition. Researchers are now advancing small RNA-based technology to deliver new products that improve yield and accelerate the ability for farmers to respond to changing growing conditions.

In addition to research, the grant will support education and outreach programs in the St. Louis region. A graduate student researcher will be supported for the duration of the project, and an undergraduate student will join the project as part of the Center’s Research Experience for Undergraduates summer internship program.

The project will also contribute to building of a bioinformatics teacher-training module, which will be done via the “Tech Trunk” Program. Tech Trunks was developed at the Danforth Center by Terry Woodford Thomas to provide no-cost equipment and teacher training for bioscience and biotechnology education in underserved St. Louis area high schools.

About The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science. Research aims to feed the hungry and improve human health, preserve and renew the environment and position the St. Louis region as a world center for plant science. The Center’s work is funded through competitive grants and contract revenue from many sources, including the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates and Howard G. Buffett Foundations.

The Danforth Center invites you to visit its website, www.danforthcenter.org, featuring interactive information on the Center scientists, recent news, the 2012 annual report, and “Roots & Shoots” blog that help keep visitors up to date with Center’s current operations and areas of research. Follow us on Twitter at @DanforthCenter.
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Melanie Bernds
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