Grotewold Receives $4.2 Million Plant Research Grant

February 2, 2012

Erich Grotewold, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Horticulture & Crop Science, and director of the Center for Applied Sciences (CAPS), is the Principal Investigator on a $4,234,908 National Science Foundation (NSF) project to address fundamentally important questions in plant research.

The four-year grant funds Grotewold and project co-PI’s—; Ohio State Medical Center and Department of Molecular Genetics Associate Professor Andrea Doseff; and University of Toledo (UT) Associate Professor John Gray, to study “Systems Approaches to Identify Gene Regulatory Networks in the Grasses.”                                                                                                                                      
 
 “Establishing gene regulatory networks and linking system components to agronomic traits is an important emerging theme in plant systems biology,” Grotewold said. “This is the first concerted effort to comprehensively dissect the gene regulatory networks that target the metabolism of phenolic compounds, found in maize, other cereal crops and commonly-consumed vegetables.”
 
These compounds include phenylpropanoids, lignins, flavonoids and hydroxamic acids, all of fundamental agricultural importance. For example, Lignin is a complex plant polymer important in biofuel considerations, which is gaining significance as a feedstock for the generation of bio-chemicals and bio-materials. 
 
Many phenolic compounds are essential to protect plants from biotic and abiotic stresses, and provide a number of beneficial effects as significant nutraceutical components of the human diet. Understanding how these nutraceutical phenolics function in human health is at the core of Doseff’s research.
 
The discovery of regulatory factors that control phenolic accumulation, the identification of their interaction partners, and direct target genes for individual and combinations of regulators, will provide insights on how these important compounds are controlled. 
 
These findings will accelerate the study of the regulation of other important metabolic and developmental pathways in maize and other grasses and will be made widely available through GRASSIUS (grassius.org), a web-accessible knowledge base.
 
Beyond the Laboratory: Teaching, Training, Outreach to Students at all Levels
 
“In addition,” Grotewold said, “The project’s interdisciplinary nature provides unique opportunities for the training of students and postdoctoral researchers across several disciplines and increases opportunities for students from underrepresented groups.
 
“The inception of SIGuE (Success in Graduate Education, SIGUE-CAPS.org), a post-baccalaureate program specifically designed to increase representation in science graduate education of underrepresented groups, provides a natural continuum in team efforts to better connect undergraduate and graduate instruction.” 
 
Program elements include: a Practical Summer Workshop in Functional Genomics (caps.osu.edu/events/pfg); the FIRE (Fostering the Integration of Research and Undergraduate Education) program, an undergraduate research experience in UT classrooms; and workshops at partner institutions, including the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez (UPRM).
 
FIRE fellows are expected serve as ambassadors of Ohio State’s Arabidopsis Biological Resource Center’s (abrc.osu.edu) “Greening the Classroom” initiative, which is aimed at increasing high-school students’ scientific awareness, in central and northwestern Ohio schools.
 
Grotewold is director of both the ABRC and the new Center for Applied Plant Sciences (CAPS, caps.osu.edu), a partnership between Ohio State’s College of Arts and Sciences (ASC) and College of Food, Agriculture, & Environmental Sciences (CFAES).  
 
This project will tackle several areas strategic to CAPS’ mission: finding practical solutions to problems in Photosynthesis & Carbon Fixation, Biomass & Bioproducts, Crop Improvement & Functional Foods, and Plant-Microbe Interactions.