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Plant genome research
 
 
Plant genome research: The predicted changes in atmospheric CO2 levels and climate are expected to pose many challenges for plants and how plants respond to these changing environmental stressors are of great interest given the importance of plant materials, biofuels and food production. The National Science Foundation has recently awarded a five-year, $6.2 million dollar genome grant to a consortium from the University of Missouri, Purdue University, University of Florida, University of Nebraska, Saint Michael's College, and VT EPSCoR, to better our understanding of how CO2 captured in leaves through photosynthesis is distributed throughout the plant. Over the next five years, the $766,000 dollars awarded to Professor Mark Lubkowitz at Saint Michael's College will allow 40 undergraduate students to participate in this project.

Photosynthesis uses light energy to convert CO2 into carbohydrates that are then distributed to the rest of the plant through the phloem. Even though quite a bit is known about photosynthesis, remarkably little is known about the molecular and genetic components that regulate the movement of sugars throughout the plant. Transport through the phloem is analogous to traffic on the interstate. The speed at which traffic moves is a function of the on-ramps, off-ramps, and width of the interstate. Through this grant we will be examining the genes that control the phloem�s on- and off-ramps to better understand how sugar �traffic� moves throughout the plant and to determine where the bottlenecks reside.

Professor Lubkowitz�s Molecular Biology course will play an integral part in identifying genes involved in phloem function in partnership with a laboratory at the University of Florida. The Florida-based research group is generating a list of potential genes involved in phloem function through laser-capture-microdissection which will be characterized by students enrolled in the SMC Molecular Biology course. Each student will be assigned five candidate genes to characterize over the semester using bioinformatics and molecular biology tools. Eight of these students will continue with the project over the summer by working at one of the partner laboratories at Purdue, University of Missouri, or the University of Florida. Professor Lubkowitz will also be coordinating a week-long summer workshop for groups of high school teachers and students. Teams consisting of one teacher and two high school students will spend a week at Saint Michael's College learning about the importance of carbohydrate partitioning through analyzing maple sap and energy potential in various biofuels.

 

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