The problem of stalk lodging (breakage of plant stems prior to harvest) reduces United States grain yields by approximately 20% annually. Despite the opportunity to greatly improve food security, the mechanisms that cause stalk lodging have not been established. This RII Track-2 FEC FY 2018 project entitled "Understanding the relationship between genome and phenome" brings together a unique team from mathematics, engineering, chemistry, genomics, and biology to provide a unique approach to solving this complex problem. Three interjurisdictional Universities, the University of Kentucky, University of Idaho, and Clemson University have leveraged their research expertise to create the Kentucky/Idaho/Clemson Plant Biomechanics Consortium (KIC-Consortium). This consortium will combine mathematical modeling with innovative technology designed to test stem strength on large populations of plants to predict the underlying features that both cause, and may be used to overcome, stem lodging. These features will be systematically used in the future to improve grain crop varieties; thus, aiding in both food and energy security. The project will provide early career opportunities and exposure to interdisciplinary research for seven early career faculty and build a robust intellectual infrastructure in this field through several training programs.

Technical Abstract

This project will focus on stalk-lodging, a problem that has faced agriculture (maize and sorghum in particular) for decades and limits food security nationally and globally. Stalk lodging is the breakage of plant stems prior to harvest and may reduce worldwide grain yields by up to 20% annually. Improving stalk lodging by a mere 1% in maize would lead to a production increase of 20 billion pounds (~$2 billion) each year. The genetic regulation of stalk lodging resistance has proven to be elusive. While currently available state-of-the-art genomics approaches like genome wide association (GWAS), gene co-expression networks, and expression quantitative locus (eQTL) analyses have been successful in linking specific genes/variants/transcripts to specific phenotypes, they tend to either underestimate (missing heritability), or overestimate genome-to-phenome interactions. A more flexible mathematical/statistical framework capable of capturing complex multiscale, nonlinear interactions and functional relationships will provide a comprehensive picture of genome-to-phenome relationships. The proposed interjurisdictional plant biomechanics consortium involving the University of Kentucky, the University of Idaho, and Clemson University (KIC-Consortium) is focused on the hypothesis that the relationship between a genome and phenotypic traits is governed by complex functional relationships and nonlinear interactions existing at multiple temporal and spatial scales. To pursue this hypothesis, the KIC-Consortium will develop a multiscale, multiphysics modeling framework that is flexible enough to account for sophisticated nonlinear interactions and that utilizes advanced statistical methods, finite element methods, and intermediate phenotype data typically excluded from genome-to-phenome mapping efforts. The team has developed integrated workforce goals and education/early career recruitment and training goals to accommodate and advance each jurisdiction?s research future.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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University of Kentucky
United States
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