Danforth Center Selected to Participate in NSF’s “10 Big Ideas, Understanding the Rules of Life” Research Effort

Awards will help researchers determine the relationship between genes and their functions in organisms.

ST. LOUIS, MO, August 31, 2018– The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Enabling Discovery through Genomic Tools (EDGE) program has made 11 new awards, totaling approximately $10 million, to develop genomic tools that will allow biologists to identify mechanisms that determine how genes affect an organism’s physical and functional characteristics.

“We are pleased to have the support of the NSF EDGE program to advance our methods, and we have a strong research team involving several investigators at the Danforth Center, specifically Dr. Rebecca Bart and Dr. Kira Veley,” said recipient Blake Meyers, Ph.D., principal investigator and member, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and Professor, Division of Plant Sciences, at the University of Missouri. “The outcome of our work will be a means to rapidly and inexpensively identify the rare plants or other organisms with precisely-designed genetic variants. One of our aims is to build on the exciting technology of gene editing by the development of our screening strategies.” Rebecca Bart, Ph.D., Principal Investigator and Assistant Member at the Danforth Center, and Kira Veley, Ph.D., Research Scientist at the Danforth Center are Co-Principal Investigators on the project.

The EDGE program helps the research community overcome the impediments that restrict progress in the biology of organisms, including their structure, function and other traits. Specifically, EDGE supports the development and dissemination of new functional genomic tools, approaches and associated infrastructure to directly test gene function in organisms.

"The EDGE awards are very exciting because they are transformative," said Joanne Tornow, NSF’s acting assistant director for the Directorate of Biological Sciences. "These researchers are creating innovative tools that will advance efforts to identify links between genes and complex organismal-level characteristics in a wide range of species."

EDGE awards cover a diverse range of organisms, from fungi to plants and animals. Each new project will move the scientific community closer to being able to predict phenotype by developing enhanced genomic tools and infrastructure. This research will contribute to elucidating the sets of rules that predict an organism’s observable characteristics or phenotypes, helping to address one of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas, “Understanding the Rules of Life.”

"This research represents a grand challenge in biology and is part of a bigger effort within our field to better predict how organismal traits arise from genetic variation in natural environments," said Ted Morgan, NSF EDGE program director. "Building this fundamental understanding of how genetic changes are connected with organismal traits has a range of significant societal benefits that include predicting organismal responses to changing environments, the development of more effective conservation efforts, the development of new medical approaches, new therapeutics and better crop yields."

This year’s awardees include:
Tools for studying gene function in voles
Zoe Donaldson, University of Colorado-Boulder

Genetic transformation of chytrid fungi
Lillian Fritz-Laylin, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

Generating tools to study Spiralian development
Jonathan Henry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Establishing functional genomics in Hydra to study stem cells and regeneration
Celina Juliano, University of California-Davis

Expanding the functional genetics toolkit to link genes to phenotypes in cichlid fish
Scott Juntti, University of Maryland-College Park

Establishment of genome editing and transgenic tools in Anolis lizards
Douglas Menke, University of Georgia

High-efficiency identification of products of homologous recombination in plants as a tool to test gene function
Blake Meyers, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Developing techniques for linking genotype to phenotype in amphibians
Lauren O’Connell, Stanford University

Creation of genetically tractable cephalopod model using the Hawaiian bobtail squid
Joshua Rosenthal, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole

Enabling functional genomics in monkey flowers (Mimulus)
Andrea Sweigart, University of Georgia

Functional genomics in Polistes wasps, a model system in integrative organismal biology
Amy Toth, Iowa State University

About The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science. Research, educationandoutreach aim to have impactat the nexus of food security and the environmentand position the St. Louis region as a world center for plant science. The Center’s work is funded through competitive grants from many sources, including the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Follow us on Twitter at @DanforthCenter.

Media Contact:

Karla Roeber