Scientists to explore deepest mysteries of symbiosis in legumes (4/7/2009)
Scientists from the University of Minnesota hope to better understand the genetics of symbiosis, the process that produces the nitrogen that feeds plants, through a new three-year $5.7 million National Science Foundation grant.
The grant funds continuing research into the genetic makeup of Medicago truncatula, a model legume that scientists use to learn more about other legumes like soybeans and alfalfa. The project's principal investigator is Nevin Young, a professor of plant pathology and biology at the university who recently led the international research team that sequenced the Medicago genome.
Legumes like Medicago are noted for their ability to form symbiotic relationships with soil bacteria. This relationship converts nitrogen into a biologically useable form, which in turn fertilizes the plant. This project will involve creating a Medicago "HapMap" - a database mapping technique currently being used in the human genome mapping project - which will show all the genetic variations in the legume and eventually lead to discovering which genome regions control symbiosis and other legume-specific traits.
"Legumes are the largest source of dietary protein in the world, even while providing millions of tons of environmentally-friendly fertilizer," Young said. "Symbiosis is the foundation for this important contribution to food security and environmental quality. Our project will take advantage of the incredible analytical power of a Medicago HapMap to reveal the legume-bacterial dialogue that makes this all possible."
Because research into legume-bacterial symbiosis spans many scientific fields, the project's results will provide a framework for interdisciplinary teaching in high school and undergraduate science classes. Young and his University of Minnesota co-principal investigators, Michael Sadowsky and Peter Tiffin, will partner with Hamline University to develop new undergraduate curricula. They also will mentor undergraduates from Hamline and the University of Puerto Rico as research interns in their labs. The undergraduate students' research will be complemented by graduate students in computer science, plant biology, plant pathology and soil science.
In addition to Young, Sadowsky and Tiffin, other co-principal investigators on the project include Betsy Martinez-Vaz of Hamline University, Maria Harrison of the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research and Joann Mudge from the National Center for Genome Resources.
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by the University of Minnesota