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University of Minnesota receives NSF grant to sequence legume genome

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL--The University of Minnesota has received $10.8 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a multi-institution initiative to sequence the genome of a model legume known by its scientific name, Medicago truncatula (the barrel medic). Medicago truncatula is the third plant genome to be sequenced; only Arabidopsis--a plant widely studied as a model green plant--and rice have been sequenced to date. Medicago was given such high priority because it provides an excellent experimental system to study agriculturally important legumes like soybeans, mung beans, chickpeas, cowpeas, and lentils, crops that constitute the major source of protein for people throughout the developing world. Alfalfa is also a legume and is a major source of protein for foraging cattle and a close relative of Medicago truncatula.

Nevin Young, a professor with a joint appointment in the departments of plant pathology and plant biology in the university's College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences, will lead the work, which is part of NSF's plant genome research program.

Legumes acquire their high protein content by virtue of their ability to produce their own fertilizer through a process known as nitrogen fixation. Legumes also produce many novel compounds with health-promoting properties, such as anti-cancer activity.

"Legumes are responsible for a majority of the biologically generated nitrogen in the world, especially in agriculture," said Young. That is, before the expensive, energy-intensive process of commercial fertilizer production was invented, agriculture worldwide depended on legumes to supply the nitrogen needed to make protein. Legumes perform this feat with the help of bacteria that infect their roots and form specialized structures called nodules. Within nodules, nitrogen gas from the air is converted into a form that living organisms can use to make amino acids and proteins.

The special compounds le
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Contact: Deane Morrison
morri029@umn.edu
612-624-2346
University of Minnesota
20-Oct-2003


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