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David Bricker
University Communications

Last modified: Thursday, April 2, 2009

Indiana University biologist leads $8 million project to study economically important plants

April 2, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A project led by an Indiana University Bloomington plant biology team has been awarded an $8 million, four-year National Science Foundation grant to study the genetics and genomics of economically important and evolutionarily interesting plant species.

Loren Rieseberg

Photo by: IU Home Pages

Professor of Biology Loren Rieseberg and members of the Compositae family

Print-Quality Photo

"Comparative Genomics of Phenotypic Variation in the Compositae" will investigate the largest family of flowering plants, which includes sunflowers, safflowers, lettuce -- and even daisies and dandelions.

The project's principal investigator is Loren Rieseberg, who has joint appointments at IU Bloomington and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Zhao Lai, assistant scientist in the IU Bloomington Department of Biology and staff scientist at the IU Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics, is a co-principal investigator on the project. The $8 million award is being disbursed to IU Bloomington and distributed to collaborators at five partner institutions. Scientists have already received $2.3 million to begin work.

"This project will have a major, lasting impact on both crop and weed science through the production of permanent, publicly available genomics resources," Rieseberg said. "All results will be disseminated via publication in peer-reviewed journals, presentations at national and international meetings, and the resulting data will be made publicly available via deposition in freely-accessible, online databases."

Of particular interest to Rieseberg and his group are genetic changes in crop species and weeds that have led to similar changes in form, for example, height or bushiness. If these changes are guided by the same genes, or some of the same genes, agricultural biotechnologists might learn to imbue other plant species with the same properties.

The scientists also want to know whether changes in the Compositae are more likely the result of changes in how genes are expressed -- or of changes in the character of the genes themselves.

Last, the researchers will look at how the duplication of whole sets of chromosomes may have influenced the evolution of Compositae species. Many plants are famously able to tolerate genome duplication. Changes in chromosome number in humans, by contrast, usually leads to cell death or severe developmental defects.

Richard Michelmore and Kent Bradford (University of California at Davis), Richard Kesseli (University of Massachusetts Boston), John Burke and Steven Knapp (University of Georgia), and David Still (California State Polytechnic University) are also co-principal investigators on the project.

To speak with Rieseberg or Zhao, please contact David Bricker, University Communications, at 812-856-9035 or