Virginia Tech researchers join NSF Arabidopsis 2010 Project; may help produce plants that defend themselves without pesticides

BLACKSBURG, Va., Understanding the functions of the genes in the plant Arabidopsis could help with research in the fields of agriculture, medicine, and energy; and Virginia Tech researchers have received a grant from the National Science Foundations Arabidopsis 2010 Project Program to help understand those genes.

Asim Esen and Brenda Winkel of biology and David R. Bevan of biochemistry, along with researchers at the University of Iowa, have received a $2-million NSF grant for three years to study the "Functional Genomics of Arabidopsis Beta-glucosidase and Beta-galactosidase Gene Families." Virginia Tech will receive $1.1 million, which includes a $200,000 sub-award to Virginia State University at Petersburg, and The University of Iowa will receive $0.9 million.

A possible future use of this research could be the development of plants that can defend themselves better without pesticides or plants that can be used as a source of sugar for food stocks or for the production of alcohol.

"NSF is excited to begin this important endeavor of understanding the functions of each gene in Arabidopsis," said NSF director Rita Colwell. "While the task is daunting, it is also essential to this growing area of biotechnology research and its many applications. 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 plant Arabidopsis and the 2010 Project to understand its genes are important to biologists, the NSF said. "By studying this humble plant in the mustard family, scientists can better understand how all sorts of living organisms behave genetically, with potentially widespread applications for agriculture, medicine, and energy," the NSF press release said. Arabidopsis is a useful model because its entire genome consists of a relatively small set of genes that dictate when the weed

Contact: Dr. Asim Esen
Virginia Tech

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