The root plays a significant role in a plant's ability to withstand abiotic stresses, like drought and soil salinity. Eleven faculty from the Center for Plant Science Innovation have teamed up with scientists at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, University of Nebraska at Kearney and Doane University to form the Center for Root and Rhizobiome Innovation.
Funded by the National Science Foundation's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR, this project uses a holistic strategy to study root and soil microbe interactions and to develop new biological tools to enhance crop performance.
Modern plant science research at the university has become even more robust thanks to the collaborations fostered by the Center for Plant Science Innovation. Archie Clutter
The team primarily focuses on maize, but the findings and biological tools can be applicable to studying and improving other crops, including soybeans. The team is working toward understanding the genetic and metabolic diversity across a wide array of corn varieties for the chemicals secreted by roots, known as exudates.
The researchers hope to identify exudates that attract specific microbes to the roots to improve the ability of the plant to mine the soil for water and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. This knowledge will guide efforts by the team to breed or use new technologies, such as synthetic biology, to develop new maize varieties that are able to maintain productivity with less water and chemical fertilization, which could reduce input costs by farmers and increase sustainability of crop production.
The project also aims to develop a highly skilled workforce to support and start biotechnology industries in Nebraska. Not only are undergraduate and graduate students trained in PSI faculty labs, but the research is also complemented by summer science camps for Nebraska middle and high school students to promote their interest in education and eventual careers in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines.
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