Nine applicants compete in field of 30 to win nearly $1 million in OCAST Plant Science awards
Nine applicants for the OCAST Oklahoma Plant Science research program have been approved for funding totaling $955,039 for the next two years. OCAST is the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology.
While nine applicants were successful in their quest for OCAST funding, 26 of the 30 applicants were approved for funding by independent peer review. OCAST’s 2011 funding level for plant science provided funding for the first nine, leaving 17 qualified projects without funding from Oklahoma.
Oklahoma’s investment in plant science is expected to position the state to receive larger federal research awards and make progress in many areas including converting plants to energy and pharmaceuticals, according to Michael Carolina, OCAST executive director.
Due in part to the National Institutes of Health four years ago increasing its research emphasis on developing new drugs and therapeutics derived from plants, Oklahoma agricultural producers may benefit with increased demand driven by the role of plant sciences in health, defense and energy.
Plant science research, for the purpose of this program, targets those research activities occurring in higher education, nonprofit research institutions and private enterprises. The projects have potential commercial application and concern plant productivity, renewable biomass, plant-based environmental applications and chemical platforms, plant-based solutions to improve nutrition, human and/or animal health or performance, process applications and seed management and the development of new products and services that shall form the basis of new, high-technology plant science/agriculture industry for Oklahoma.
Projects are for two years. Successful applicants include:
- Richard Dixon, Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Ardmore – Development of Low Lignin Alfalfa Varieties with Enhanced Forage Quality for Oklahoma. This project will develop high biomass, low lignin alfalfa cultivars which can be used as dual purpose forage/bioenergy crops. It has been shown that low lignin alfalfa enables farmers to obtain identical forage yields with one less cut per year, representing a potential savings of 20 percent in harvest costs. Alfalfa yields may increase by up to 50 percent, with annual impacts of $10-50 million at current prices. Using alfalfa as a bioenergy crop, a 50 percent increase in yield would translate to an increase in ethanol productivity of up to 35 million gallons annually, with a value of $121 million at the present ethanol price. Award: $200,000
- Patrick Zhao, Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Ardmore – Advancing Bioinformatics to Understand Mechanisms of Plant Non-coding Small RNA-target Interactions. The proposed work will significantly advance the understanding of the role of small RNAs in plant gene regulation, fuel the development of small RNA-based genomic tools to study gene function and ultimately help better engineer economically important crops. Award: $100,000
- Mingyi Wang, Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Ardmore – Medicago Truncatula Gene Regulatory Network Prediction Server. The aim of this project is to provide the legume community a web-based computational service, for building and testing hypotheses on Medicago gene regulatory networks, that govern various biological processes of legume crops. Award: $82,500
- Million Tadege, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater – The Molecular Basis of Leaf Blade Development in Medicago Truncatula. To improve photosynthetic efficiency, this project will define the molecular function of a gene identified as a key transcription factor, STENOFOLIA (STF), from Medicago truncatula. Identifying the molecular mechanism of STF function will significantly advance understanding of the mechanism of cellular proliferation and differentiation during lateral growth. Award: $100,000
- William Henley, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater – Continuous Cultures of Algae: Basic Research Toward Biofuels. The long-term goal of this project is to develop the intellectual foundation to support a new algal biofuels industry in Oklahoma. The team proposes to study pure and mixed continuous cultures of salt tolerant green algae, diatoms and cyanobacteria in the laboratory. It also has the potential to remediate water quality by consuming nutrients in wastewater and to reduce net CO2 emissions by converting waste CO2 from fossil fuel combustion to biofuels that will displace future fossil fuel use. Award: $99,972
- Xiaoqiang Wang, Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Ardmore – Molecular and Structural Basis of Plant Biomass Biosynthesis. Plant cell walls are essential for plant life. They are also tightly associated with the quality of plant-based foods, have beneficial effects in human diets and are the essential materials in industry as a source of fibers and renewable biofuel. As one of the long-term benefits, the proposed research will provide a guide for engineering of crop plants with enhanced production, quality and nutritional value. Award: $100,000
- Mark Fishbein, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater – Phylogenomics of Anti-Insect Defenses in Milkweeds. Crop losses to insect damage present one of the greatest challenges to the sustainability of human societies. The crux of the challenge is to counter the ever-evolving ability of insects and other crop pests to circumvent control methods without incurring unacceptable environmental and economic costs. Successful implementation of this project will provide a proof of concept for seeking additional funding to conduct a more extensive screen of the genes underlying defenses against insect herbivory. Such genetic tools will benefit the cotton, wheat and other agricultural industries of Oklahoma. Award: $99,851
- Andrew Doust, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater – Using Foxtail Millet as a Model to Improve Drought Resistance in Biofuel Grasses. Water availability is a prime determinant of crop production. Biofuels have been suggested as a way to increase productivity of land that is marginal for agricultural production in states such as Oklahoma. In order for this to be feasible it will be necessary to breed biofuel grasses such as switchgrass with enhanced ability to withstand water stress and still produce biomass. The research team has experience in genetic analysis of foxtail and green millet and in studying water-use efficiency in several model systems. Award: $100,000
- Kefyalew Desta, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater – Teff Growth and Yield as Affected by Day Length, Temperature and Soil Moisture. Teff is an annual tri- purpose grass crop becoming important in many parts of the US. It is a summer crop in which its establishment, growth and yield are significantly influenced by day length, temperature and soil moisture. The results will enable technologists to choose the right planting time and suitable locations with appropriate soil types that can allow producers to successfully grow teff in Oklahoma and neighboring states. Award: $72,716