CoPIs: Rujin Chen and Kiran Mysore (The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation), Rebecca Dickstein (University of North Texas), Maria Harrison (The Boyce Thompson Institute), and Janine Sherrier (University of Delaware)

Legumes have been an integral part of agricultural systems for thousands of years and are second only to grasses in importance for modern agriculture. Legume crops capacitate sustainable agriculture and global food security today because these plants establish two beneficial symbioses that minimize the requirement for energy-expensive and polluting N- and P-fertilizers. Specifically, symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria called rhizobia supplies legumes with reduced nitrogen while symbiosis with arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi supplies legumes with phosphate and other growth limiting mineral nutrients. Development and differentiation of nitrogen-fixing (NF) and AM symbioses require coordinated changes in the expression of thousands of plant and bacterial or fungal genes. While tremendous advances have been made recently in our understanding of plant-microbe signaling during the early stages of the legume-rhizobia and legume-AM fungal interactions, relatively little is known about the genetic basis of later stages of symbiosis development which have a great impact on the efficacy of these symbioses for agriculture. This project establishes a Virtual Center for Symbiosis Research consisting of six groups at four organizations that are at the cutting-edge of NF and AM research and genomic, genetic, molecular and cell biology resource development for legumes. The major objectives of the project include: the systematic discovery of new genes required for NF and AM symbiosis using established resources for forward- and reverse-genetics; the development of advanced genetic resources and databases for high-throughput gene function discovery in legumes; and the development of facile resources for cell and molecular biology in Medicago. It is the hope that this project will accelerate basic discovery and contribute to knowledge and the resource base for delivering system-level models and comprehensive understanding of NF and AM symbioses in the future.

This project is trans-disciplinary and requires the application of genomics, functional genomics, and bioinformatics with the classical disciplines of genetics, molecular and cell biology, and plant physiology. Strong and novel training opportunities integral to the research plan will be provided to postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students and technical staff at the Noble Foundation, the Boyce Thompson Institute and the Universities of Delaware and North Texas. All participating institutions have student outreach components that will be harnessed to maximize teaching and learning outcomes. In addition, this project will deliver genetic and molecular- and cell biology tools and databases to the legume research community. It will also strengthen collaborative links, not only among the project collaborators, but also to the legume community generally. The work will benefit society by helping to train the next generation of scientists and by helping to make agriculture more sustainable and environmentally-friendly. Vectors and transgenic and mutant seed will be maintained and distributed over the long term by the Noble Foundation's Molecular and Biological Materials Core Facility. Transcriptome data will be deposited and accessible through public repositories that include ArrayExpress Database (, and the Medicago Gene Expression Atlas ( All sequence data related to flanking sequence tags (FSTs) associated with Tnt1 insertions can be accessed through the project website at

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS)
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Diane Jofuku Okamuro
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Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Inc.
United States
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