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Pitt biologist receives $2 million to study genetic diversity of plants worldwide
Date:9/20/2012

PITTSBURGHAlthough polyploids, which are plants with more than two sets of chromosomes, are common, how they contribute to the biodiversity has remained a mysteryuntil now. With the help of a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Oregon State University will use wild strawberry plants (Fragaria) to identify what role genetic diversity plays in polyploids, which make up 30-80% of all living plants. This will help scientists predict the ecological responses plants may have to environmental change.

"This deeply integrated comparative study of the wild relatives of the cultivated strawberrya species of world-wide economic importancewill provide foundational knowledge and contribute unparalleled resources that may be harnessed in efforts to ensure the sustainability of the strawberry and related crops such as the cherry, peach or apple, in the face of stress from non-living factors," said Tia-Lynn Ashman, principal investigator of the study and professor and associate chair of Pitt's Department of Biological Sciences.

The strawberry, a plant with 20 species (nearly half of which are polyploids), has centers of diversity in China and America and possesses numerous features that make it the perfect plant to examine. For example, Fragaria is susceptible to climate change, due to its early spring flowering and northern latitude or high-elevation distribution. Ashman says the wild strawberry will be the key to helping biologists resolve uncertainties about polyploidization's impact on the biodiversity.

"We will use common garden studies of natural and synthetic polyploids in the greenhouse and at climatically diverse sites to quickly identify the factors that underlie its functional traits and gene expression diversity," said Ashman.

This will allow her team to forge links between gene expression and functional variation, says Ashman, allowing them to det
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Contact: B. Rose Huber
rhuber@pitt.edu
412-624-4356
University of Pittsburgh
Source:Eurekalert

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