PI: Ann E. Stapleton (University of North Carolina - Wilmington)
CoPIs: Barbara MethÃ© (J. Craig Venter Institute), Bradley W. Goodner (Hiram College), and Stuart G. Gordon (Presbyterian College)
Plant growth and water relations can be affected by microbes on the leaf surface (the phyllosphere), either negatively through increased cuticle permeability or positively by increased water use efficiency. Plant leaf features thus interact with microbial characteristics and the abiotic environment to shape the adaptive landscape of the above-ground community. Limited water availability reduces maize (Zea mays L.) yield world-wide. Projections of crop effects under climate change indicate that water availability will decline, and water demand will increase. Maize leaf microbial community features are correlated with drought tolerance loci. The project will examine the association of phyllosphere microbes with maize drought responses using metagenomics to identify relevant functional genes. Better understanding of plant above-ground interactions with microbial inhabitants has the potential to fundamentally change breeding approaches for drought tolerance.
The biology taught to high school students and undergraduates is increasingly distant from research biology. As a result, many of the best high-school students leave science behind as they choose college majors. Bridging these gaps is important to convince talented students that biology is relevant in their lives and that they can understand and be part of the scientific research enterprise. A decade ago genomics and bioinformatics started to provide integrated, "same-time" teaching/learning/research opportunities. Metagenomics is the next step up not just in terms of new research techniques and findings, but also in terms of getting students at multiple educational levels to connect genetics to ecology and physiology, and to better appreciate the roles of the vast diversity of microbes in natural and human altered habitats all over the planet. The project will build on past success in merging genomics research with education to include large metagenomics datasets. There is ample evidence from previous work that students can make significant research contributions. The project will develop the connections from the proposed experimental work to courses and develop cutting-edge functional tests compatible with undergraduate labs for biochemical activities emerging from the gene set found in the phyllosphere. All sequence data can be accessed at the NCBI Sequence Read Archive (SRA) and/or the European Bioinformatics Institute's European Nucleotide Archive (ENA). Metadata associated with the sequence reads and other types of data such as assemblies, annotation and metadata will also be deposited with the sequence reads as allowable through GenBank.