The Historically Black Colleges and Universities-Undergraduate Program (HBCU-UP) Research Initiation Awards (RIAs) provide support to STEM junior faculty at HBCUs who are starting to build a research program, as well as for mid-career faculty who may have returned to the faculty ranks after holding an administrative post or who needs to redirect and rebuild a research program. Faculty members may pursue research at their home institution, at an NSF-funded Center, at a research intensive institution or at a national laboratory. The RIA projects are expected to help further the faculty member's research capability and effectiveness, to improve research and teaching at his or her home institution, and to involve undergraduate students in research experiences. With support from the National Science Foundation, Alcorn State University will conduct research to examine the fungal communities associated with energy grasses such as the giant miscanthus. The project will enhance the research capabilities of the principle investigator as well as teaching and learning at Alcorn State University. Undergraduate students will benefit from the collaborations with university and industry partners and the research experiences and training in fungal ecology. This experience will help to build the competency of the undergraduate students and support the nation's efforts in building a robust STEM workforce.
The aim of the proposed study is to examine the giant miscanthus fungal communities and the role of root endophytes in enhancing feedstock production. Specific objectives are: 1) to employ next generation sequencing (NGS) tools (locus targeted Illumina MiSeq sequencing) to examine the composition, diversity and richness, and the seasonal and temporal variation of fungal communities of the shoot, root and rhizosphere; and 2) to isolate and identify root colonizing fungal endophytes and to select mutualistic and parasitic/pathogenic fungal endophytes by growth chamber studies. Findings from this study will: 1) provide a blueprint of the fungal biome associated with an important C4 energy grass; 2) identify abiotic drivers of fungal diversity and composition and their spatial structuring; 3) lay the foundation for dissecting the contribution of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi towards high nitrogen sustainability of giant miscanthus; 4) identify the impact of root fungal endophytes on the host. This study will prepare the foundation for future university-industry partnership to conduct larger collaborative investigations on the microbial symbiosis of giant miscanthus. This project will be conducted in collaboration with Kansas State University.