CSHL Researchers Receive Research Support

NSF Plant Genome Grants Fund Three Projects Totaling $7.1 Million

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory researchers W. Richard McCombie, Lincoln Stein and Doreen Ware are among 31 recipients of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Plant Genome Research Program grants, recently awarded as part of a nationwide effort to develop genomic resources for plant research. The outcomes of these projects will contribute to understanding important processes pertaining to agriculture, environmental concerns, energy and health.

According to Mary Clutter, Assistant Director of NSF's Directorate for Biological Sciences, this year's awards take advantage of the fruits of earlier genome projects to extend existing areas of research and to break entirely new ground.

“In key ways, these projects will expand what we know about the biology of the plant kingdom, including plants that have a major impact upon the lives of people around the world,” Clutter said. “In a relatively short time, genomics has created massive amounts of data and innovative, adaptable tools for biological research. These now make it possible for scientists, wherever they are, to approach important, challenging questions in new ways.”

mccombie“Finishing the Rice Genome,” A $4.2 Million, Three-Year “Virtual Center” Project
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Professor W. Richard McCombie will be leading the efforts to sequence about 10% of the rice genome, in addition to about 1-2% of the most technically challenging regions of that genome, that has not been completed by the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project (IRGSP). Sequencing the rice genome is necessary because rice is the most important food source worldwide and because it is a cost-effective way to understand other closely related crops such as corn and wheat. The work is in collaboration with Dr. Rod Wing of the University of Arizona and the IRGSP (headed by Dr. Takuji Sasaki). In particular the CSHL and Arizona groups will collaborate with IRGSP members in India and Taiwan. In addition, training opportunities will be available for local high school students and faculty in collaboration between Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Genome Research Center and its Dolan DNA Learning Center.

McCombie’s project is one of six new “virtual centers” the NSF is establishing this year. According to Jane Silverthorne, who directs NSF's Plant Genome Research Program, “With these centers, there are no geographical or disciplinary boundaries. They foster interactions with other research efforts, and, as with all of the plant genome projects, they freely share the outcomes of their studies.”

stein“The Plant Ontology Consortium,” A $1.6 Million, Three-Year Project
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Professor Lincoln Stein and his colleagues are working towards facilitating better and easier cross-comparisons of research and knowledge between various plant species resulting in a greater understanding of plant biology. To do this, the Plant Ontology Consortium seeks to develop a common set of vocabulary terms and then apply them towards various, pre-existing, plant-specific databases. The impacts of such can include the creation of new varieties of crop plants to meet the food needs of an ever-growing world population and the development of pharmaceuticals to treat human diseases. Further, a series of group meetings will be organized to provide education and outreach opportunities.

ware“Genomics of Rice, Sorghum and Maize,” A $1.3 Million, Five-Year Project
With her “Young Investigator Award,” Doreen Ware, a USDA-Agricultural Research Service scientist based at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, is attempting to understand the genome organization in agronomically important cereal crops – rice, sorghum, and maize – and the evolutionary relationships within this family by creating comparative physical maps between rice chromosome 1 and the corresponding regions of sorghum and maize. In the process she will develop methods for building and finished comparative maps, which can be applied to genome-scale projects in the future; create a valuable resource for the identification of genes involved in agronomically important traits; and develop a pilot curriculum for high school students on “Colinearity of Genes in Cereal Genomes.”

The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget that exceeds $5 billion. Its plant genome program examines the structure and function of plant genes, particularly those important to agriculture, environmental concerns, energy and health. Since the Plant Genome Research Program began in 1998, NSF has committed about $375 million to the effort (including this year's new awards.) Currently the program supports 120 projects. A complete list of the awards is available at: http://nsf.gov/bio/pubs/awards/genome03.htm.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is a private, non-profit basic research institution. Under the leadership of Dr. Bruce Stillman, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society (London), 308 scientists at the Laboratory conduct groundbreaking research in cancer, neurobiology, plant genetics, and bioinformatics. For additional information, call (516) 367-8455, or visit the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory website at www.cshl.edu.