NSF Bolsters Plant Crop Gene Research

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Sowing excitement in the plant science community, the National Science Foundation (NSF) today announced that it will award $85 million for studies over the next 5 years aiming to unlock the genetic secrets of corn and other crops.

Almost half the money ($36 million) will be spent on corn. The grants range in size from a 2-year, $301,000 award (won by Z. Renee Sung at the University of California, Berkeley) to a hefty 5-year grant for $12.5 million (to a team led by Stanford University's Virginia Walbot). Other grants will fund work on tomatoes, soybeans, a mustard called Arabidopsis, and cotton, as well as research on the role of stress in gene expression. "We ended up with a nice broad-spectrum of projects," says NSF's Machi Dilworth. For a list of grants, see the table below.

NSF had received proposals from more than 60 institutions as part of a plant genome initiative, added to its 1998 budget by Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO) to expand NSF-funded plant genome research to include crop plants. Until then, NSF had focused primarily on sequencing Arabidopsis, a lab workhorse. A quarter of Bond's initiative boosted the efforts on Arabidopsis. For example, a $12.6 million grant went to Stanford for sequencing this mustard's genome (announced last week); the rest of the Arabidopsis grants will be announced by 1 October.

Principal Investigator Institution Title Total award (millions $) Duration (years)
Hans Bohnert University of Arizona Genomics of plant stress tolerance 8.271 4
Renee Sung University of California (UC), Berkeley Repackaging the corn genome for molecular mapping .301 2
Hugo Dooner Rutgers University Using a maize transposon as a gene-searching engine 1.334 3
W. Zacheus Cande UC Berkeley An integrated maize map .763 4
Craig Venter The Institute of Genomic Research The generation of a tomato EST database 3.247 3
Lila Vodkin University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign A functional genomics program for soybean 4.460 4
Steven Tanksley Cornell University Tomato functional genomics 4.648 3
Deborah Delmer UC Davis Comparative functional genomics in plants .820 3
Nina Fedoroff Penn State University New techniques to study stress-induced gene expression 1.802 3
Thea Wilkins UC Davis Structure and function of the cotton genome 3.800 3
John Doebley University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Evolutionary genomics of maize 5.847 5
David Lightfoot Southern Illinois University Integrative physical mapping of the soybean genome 1.304 3
Eric Lam Rutgers University Organization and dynamics of plant nuclear DNA .676 2
Pamela Green Michigan State Univ. Gene expression of Arabidopsis 8.700 3
Daphne Preuss University of Chicago Plant Centromere Function 2.274 5
Robert Martienssen Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Center for comparitive genomics in model and crop plants 1.842 3
Lee Pratt University of Georgia Cross-linked sorghum and rice maps for analyzing grass genomes 3.247 3
Ronald Phillips University of Minnesota, Twin Cities A radiation hybrid and cloningsystem for the corn genome 1.831 3
Edward Coe University of Missouri, Columbia Database resources for maize maps 11.075 4
Virginia Walbot Stanford University Maize gene discovery, sequencing and phenotypic analysis 12.548 5
Douglas Cook Texas A&M University Legume genomics 3.441 3
Rod Wing Clemson University A BAC library resource for crop genomics .617 5
Bertrand Lemieux University of Delaware Genomic analysis of seed quality traits in corn 2.198 3