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National Science Foundation Supports Research Aimed at Reducing Fertiliser

26 January 2012

US - The National Science Foundation awarded $1.3 million to support research to reduce the amount of fertiliser used required to grow maize led by Ivan Baxter, USDA Research Scientist, Assistant Member, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

The programme includes collaboration with the University of Minnesota, Purdue University and Cornell University. The three year grant will also support training opportunities for young scientists, aspiring scientists, teachers and international scientists.

Maize is the most widely adapted and adopted crop on the planet. This is largely due to the high degree of genetic and phenotypic diversity that can be harnessed into adaptation for local conditions. While progress has been made in understanding some aspects of adaptation such as flowering time, little progress has been made with respect to adaptation to soil conditions.

Mineral Nutrient Gene Discovery and Gene X Environment Interactions in Maize will focus on Nested Association Mapping (NAM) population, a unique and powerful genetic resource, to identify genes controlling the elemental composition of maize.

Baxter's research will identify how different genes interact with mineral nutrients and toxic elements from various soil conditions to create a better understanding how soil environments play a role in the functional state of maize. The goal is to use this information to produce a more nutritious crop that can grow in more environments while using less fertilizer, thereby preserving the environment.

"The USDA-ARS lab at the Danforth Center can rapidly analyse large genetic populations of the diverse staple crop with the statistically powerful resource of Nested Association Mapping," said Mr Baxter. "The grant addresses issues critical for agriculture, the environment and human health and will further our understanding of how soil conditions affect the elemental composition of maize."

To further education on this important topic, student and teacher internships will be sponsored in St. Louis, MO, St. Paul, MN and Ithaca, NY. In addition, educational resources will be developed to assist high school teachers in incorporating bioinformatics and plant molecular biology into their curricula. Participants will also mentor high school students in science through eScience, a program utilizing technology to link students and scientists.

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