The Carnegie Institution announced today that it is a grant recipient of the Grand Challenges Explorations initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Wolf B. Frommer, director of Carnegie’s Department of Plant Biology, jointly with Bing Yang from Iowa State University and Frank White from Kansas State University, proposed the innovative global health and development research project entitled “Transformative Strategy for Controlling Rice Disease in Developing Countries.”
The scientific community needs to make a 10-year, $100 billion investment in food and energy security, says Carnegie’s Wolf Frommer and Tom Brutnell of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in an opinion piece published in the June issue of The Scientist. They say the importance of addressing these concerns in light of a rapidly growing global population is on par with President John Kennedy’s promise to put man on the moon—a project that took a decade and cost $24 billion.
The Plant Metabolic Network, which is based at Carnegie’s Department of Plant Biology, has launched four new online databases that offer an unprecedented view of the biochemical pathways controlling the metabolism of corn, soybeans, wine grapes, and cassava—four important species of crop plant. The new databases will serve as a critical resource for scientists working with these species to increase crop production, enhance biofuel development, or explore novel medicines.
Plant science is key to addressing the major challenges facing humanity in the 21st Century, according to Carnegie’s David Ehrhardt and Wolf Frommer. In a Perspective published in The Plant Cell, the two researchers argue that the development of new technology is key to transforming plant biology in order to meet human needs.
The major difference between plant and animal cells is the photosynthetic process, which converts light energy into chemical energy. When light isn’t available, energy is generated by breaking down carbohydrates and sugars, just as it is in animal and some bacterial cells. Two cellular organelles are responsible for these two processes: the chloroplasts for photosynthesis and the mitochondria for sugar breakdown. New research from Carnegie’s Eva Nowack and Arthur Grossman has opened a window into the early stages of chloroplast evolution.
Along with photosynthesis, the plant cell wall is one of the features that most set plants apart from animals. A structural molecule called cellulose is necessary for the manufacture of these walls. Cellulose is synthesized in a semi-crystalline state that is essential for its function in the cell wall function, but the mechanisms controlling its crystallinity are poorly understood. New research from a team including current and former Carnegie scientists reveals key information about this process, as well as a means to reduce cellulose crystallinity, which is a key stumbling block in biofuels development.
Plants leaves are sealed with a gas-tight wax layer to prevent water loss. Plants breathe through microscopic pores called stomata (Greek for mouths) on the surfaces of leaves. Over 40% of the carbon dioxide, CO2, in the atmosphere passes through stomata each year, as well a water volume twice that of the whole atmosphere. As the key conduits for CO2 uptake and water evaporation, stomata are critical for both our climate and plant productivity. Thus, not surprisingly, the total number and distribution of stomata are strictly regulated by plants to optimize photosynthesis while minimizing water loss. The mechanisms for such regulation have remained elusive.
Plant roots are fascinating plant organs – they not only anchor the plant, but are also the world’s most efficient mining companies. Roots live in darkness and direct the activities of the other organs, as well as interact with the surrounding environment. Charles Darwin posited in The Power of Movement of Plants that the root system acts as a plant’s brain. Due to the difficulty of accessing root tissue in intact live plants, research of these hidden parts has always lagged behind research on the more visible parts of plants. But now: a new technology--developed jointly by Carnegie and Stanford University--could revolutionize root research.
Food prices are soaring at the same time as the Earth’s population is nearing 9 billion. As a result the need for increased crop yields is extremely important. New research led by Carnegie’s Wolf Frommer into the system by which sugars are moved throughout a plant—from the leaves to the harvested portions and elsewhere—could be crucial for addressing this problem. Their work is published December 8 by Science Express.
The four largest nonprofit plant science research institutions in the U.S. have joined forces to form the Association of Independent Plant Research Institutes (AIPI) in an effort to target plant science research to meet the profound challenges facing society in a more coordinated and rapid fashion.