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ST. LOUIS, MO, August 5, 2014 – The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is part of a state-wide collaborative research project that was awarded a five year, $20 million grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF). “The Missouri Transect: Climate, Plants and Community” project received funding from the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), a program to support fundamental research, education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and workforce development in areas relevant to the economy.
“The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is honored to play a major role in this consortium,” said James Carrington, Ph.D., president of the Danforth Center. “By combining so much of our state’s research capacity and infrastructure in the atmospheric and plant sciences, the Missouri Transect will drive innovation, train a diversified workforce, and catalyze commercial development in areas that are so critical to Missouri’s future.”
The project is made up of four interdisciplinary teams. The Danforth Center will focus on plant phenomics, big data analytics, and community/education/outreach. Two Danforth Center scientists, Todd Mockler, Ph.D. associate member, Geraldine and Robert Virgil Distinguished Investigator and Chris Topp, Ph.D. assistant member, will conduct a genome-scale analysis of drought tolerance and water-use-efficiency in maize using the Center’s one-of-a-kind automated Bellwether Foundation Phenotyping Facility. The $3.5M million facility opened in fall of 2013. Mockler will focus on analysis of the above ground portion (shoots) of the plants and Topp will focus on the below ground portion (roots).
Doug Bryant, Ph.D., director of the Danforth Center’s Bioinformatics Core Facility, will work with a team including researchers at Washington University and the University of Missouri-Columbia (UM-C) to develop computational tools and resources to support the entire project. This big data analytics effort is essential to better understand how plants interact with their environment, and how changes in temperature and water availability affect plant productivity. This emphasis on “Big Data” will focus of Missouri’s research cyberinfrastructure, and help train students and researchers to creatively explore massive biological and environmental datasets.
Terry Woodford-Thomas, Ph.D., the Derick and Sally Driemeyer director of Science Education and Outreach at the Danforth Center will lead a new citizen science project and develop discovery-based STEM learning modules for students and educators. Woodford-Thomas will also work with collaborators at the Saint Louis Science Center to create an interactive food and agriculture exhibit related to the Missouri Transect research project.
The project will support workforce development in three areas: undergraduate and graduate education; bioinformatics training for women, minorities and people with disabilities; and job training. Missouri Transect partner institutions will offer annual Womens’ Summer Institutes in Computer Science and Bioinformatics for female high school and undergraduate students in the St. Louis, Columbia, Springfield, Rolla, and Kansas City regions. Workforce training for minority students, including those with reduced mobility due to spinal cord injuries, will open new opportunities for inclusion in computational research.
“The Missouri Transect provides groundbreaking biotechnology tools for improving crop climate resilience and educating a workforce that understands the effects of climate change on plant adaptation,” said Kelvin Chu, program director at the NSF.
In addition to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, the institutions participating in the project include all four University of Missouri System campuses – University of Missouri-Columbia, Missouri University of Science and Technology, University of Missouri-Kansas City, and University of Missouri-St. Louis, Washington University in St. Louis, Saint Louis University, the St. Louis Science Center and Lincoln University.
“Missouri’s economy is driven by our diverse natural and agricultural ecosystems, which are affected by climate variability,” said John Walker, professor and director of the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri and principal investigator of the project. “The Missouri Transect project, which capitalizes on our state’s core research strength in the plant sciences, will model and predict short- and long-term changes in climate and determine the impact on these important plant ecosystems, as well as on the communities that rely on them.”
NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2012, its budget was $7.0 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.