Kansas State Plant Pathology Researchers Lead $2.4 Million Plant Genome Grant Work

Manhattan, KS (September 5, 2018) - Researchers, led by Kansas State University, have received funding from the National Science Foundation to improve methods for plant tissue culture for genome engineering.

The grant is to understand the genetic basis underlying the ability of plant tissues to regenerate into whole plants, a process which is critical for plant genome engineering.

Sanzhen Liu, assistant professor in the plant pathology department at K-State, is the principal investigator for the four-year research grant of $2,398,613, of which $1,316,182 is allocated to the university. Sunghun Park, professor of horticulture and natural resources at K-State, will serve as co-principal investigator with Frank White from the University of Florida, Myeong-Je Cho from the University of California-Berkeley, and Hairong Wei from Michigan Technological University.

Maize, or corn, the highest-yielding cereal crop in the world, serves as an important model for fundamental research. Maize production has experienced dramatic yield increases over the last century but faces challenges for further increases, particularly under highly variable climates and disease pressures.

Revolutionary genome engineering tools — genome editing — offer great opportunities for trait improvements. However, to be effective, such tools require useable plant tissue cultures. Unfortunately, most crop plants, including maize, are not readily amenable to plant tissue culture, thereby limiting the benefit from direct applications of genome-editing tools.

The genome of a maize line that is amenable to tissue culture will be sequenced to facilitate the identification of the genetic elements that regulate culture ability. Novel approaches will be developed for decoding the complex maize genome. In particular, a plant-bacterium delivery system enabling plants to gain benefits from the bacterium will be utilized to improve tissue culture.

The NSF's Plant Genome Research Program awarded the grant. It is an Early Career Investigator Awards in Plant Genome Research project that will also provide training for undergraduate and graduate students as well as postdoctoral fellows in both genetics and computation, with an emphasis on large data education.

The project will be part of the Kansas Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, aiming to encourage involvement of historically underrepresented students in STEM fields.