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National Science Foundation funds systems biology study of crop drought responses
Date:9/30/2009

Blacksburg, Va. An international team of researchers, led by Virginia Bioinformatics Institute Professor Andy Pereira, has been awarded a three-year, $2.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop a systems biology approach to help combat the effects of drought on a variety of staple food crops.

Water scarcity, caused by factors such as climate change and rapid population growth, can limit crop production, especially when it occurs during essential periods of plant growth. Cereal crops such as maize, wheat, rice, and barley can be drastically affected by even slight water deficits at critical reproductive stages. Developing a more comprehensive understanding of drought and plants' complex responses to this environmental stress requires a global view of the multiple interactive components involved.

The goal of this three-year project, "Cereal drought stress response and resistance networks," is to develop a systems biology view of the drought responses of these cereal crops to aid in the dissection of these complex biological processes. The team will develop a cereal drought gene interaction network by integrating data from rice and maize to help identify key regulatory genes and signaling pathways that may be critical for improving drought resistance.

"Plants have complex mechanisms of acclimation and adaptation to respond to and survive environmental stresses, such as drought," Pereira explained. "Analysis of these protective mechanisms will provide insights into plant stress response and resistance. Our goal is to use the data from genome-wide comparative transcriptome analysis of drought responses in rice and maize to develop a network to help us identify how certain genes in plants regulate other genes. This combined bioinformatic and systems biology approach is a powerful way to find those genes that may be modified in some way to improve crop adaptability, which will contribute to the development of st
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Contact: Susan Bland
subland@vbi.vt.edu
540-231-7912
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert

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