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Plant biology meets up with computational wizardry
Date:5/30/2011

Over time, plants have evolved to adapt to a constantly changing, often hostile, environment. Unfortunately, they are facing a new and difficult challenge ahead.

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, their environment has become more unpredictable and more extreme, at the same time as the world's population is growing. Food will soon need to be grown where it was not grown before, and existing agricultural lands will need to be cultivated with crops that have superior stress adaptation abilities.

"A crucial first step along the path to increasing world food security is a fundamental understanding of how plants respond to extreme changes in their environment. Much data, and some databases, have already been accumulated, documenting plants' responses to their environments, but those resources remain scattered. There is a gap between biologists, whose expertise lies in the study of organisms' behavior, and computer scientists, with the necessary domain knowledge to unify existing data, and make them accessible for study and further development," said Ruth Grene, professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science.

Biologists have long sought "to understand the early responses of higher plants to abiotic stresses such as drought, flooding, heat, cold, ozone, and salt. The key to understanding the responses is signal transduction pathways," said Lenny Heath, a professor of computer science at Virginia Tech.

Signal transduction pathways are collections of interacting cellular components that activate the response of the cell to an external or developmental signal such as a flood.

Heath and his colleagues, Grene, and Andy Pereira of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech, have just received a four-year grant from the National Science Foundation to provide the computational support for the biologists' questions. The grant is valued at $ 1,057,336.

"Climate change events are expected
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Contact: Lynn Nystrom
tansy@vt.edu
540-231-4371
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert  

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