$ 4 million to improve corn breeding and food production
Improved and practical plant breeding tools are essential to meet growing global demands for sustainable and safe food production, made more urgent by the unpredictable stresses caused by climate change.
To help meet this need, the Program established by the National Science Foundation to stimulate competitive research (NSF EPSCoR) awarded $ 3.99 million to researchers from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa and Iowa State University to develop an efficient and robust genomic engineering toolkit that breeders can use to accelerate the production of resilient crops adapted to a changing environment.
Corn contributes $ 61 billion to the U.S. economy and is the largest staple crop grown in both Hawaii and Iowa. Genetic diversity is the cornerstone of breeding better crops, but barriers to reproduction are often major bottlenecks in accessing this diversity.
The genetic material of tropical maize is a rich source of genetic diversity, but its short-day flowering behavior in temperate environments precludes its large-scale use for maize improvement. This project aims to overcome this obstacle by developing methods and tools that remove the short day flowering requirement from any tropical maize line, allowing it to be incorporated into any maize breeding program.
The project “Genome engineering to support crop improvement (GETSCI) ”, Is led by Michel muszynski, assistant professor at the Department of Tropical Plants and Soil Sciences of College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.
“This collaboration is based on the advantages of the biology and transformation of tropical plants (Hawaii) with expertise in corn processing, genome engineering and plant breeding (Iowa) so that we can develop and apply improved tools to suppress the late flowering behavior of high yielding tropical corn lines, their allowing it to be used immediately in any corn breeding program around the world, ”said Muszynski. “This type of work is not possible within a single institution, and so I am grateful and enthusiastic NSF EPSCoR is investing in building research capacity at both institutions so that we can develop tools to help plant breeders sustainably feed 8 billion people.
Addressing food security
Contributors to the four-year public impact research project include an assistant researcher Teresita amore, Assistant professor Zhi-Yan (Rock) Du and teacher Amy hubbard To EUH Manoa. The partners of Iowa State University are Professors Kan Wang and Jianming Yu.
“The expected impacts of this project will help address food and economic security in Hawaii, by supporting the development of new sectors for the improvement of tropical plants. In Iowa, access to tropical genetic material that has been genetically modified and adapted to temperate zones will push the breeding of improved corn varieties into the next era, ”said Wang. “This project also supports an exchange of knowledge and talent between students from our respective universities, which paves the way for continued and meaningful collaboration. “
This research is an example of EUH Mānoa’s goal of Research Excellence: Advancing the Business of Research and Creative Work (PDF), one of the four objectives identified in the Strategic plan 2015–25 (PDF), updated in December 2020.
Workforce capacity will also be increased by engaging under-represented students, especially Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, in various aspects of genomic engineering research, through the exchange of undergraduate students. between partner institutions and creating opportunities to improve science communication skills through training sessions, workshops, and community engagement.
Muszynski first developed the idea of GETSCI together with his longtime friend and colleague Nick Lauter, a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) research geneticist and faculty member of the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology. Lauter was the USDA lead for the GETSCI collaboration when he died suddenly at the age of 48, two weeks before the submission of the project proposal.
“Thanks to this project, the GETSCI The team hopes to honor Nick Lauter’s memory, his spirit of collaboration and his many contributions to corn genetic research, ”said Muszynski.