The basic knowledge and understanding of how environmental stressors, such as high temperatures, affect cereal crop production is important for global food security. Rice, a model cereal plant and a major world staple crop, is grown in the southern United States, and is threatened by increased night temperatures that contribute to unstable production, resulting in lower grain yield and quality, which result in decreased market value. This project will identify individual rice lines that are tolerant to high nighttime temperatures and will use a variety of genetic and biochemical techniques to identify potential mechanisms that underlie the ability of these plants to be high temperature tolerant. These mechanisms will be tested in the plant using gene editing technologies to confirm that these mechanisms and thus the underling causative alleles are responsible for the plant's resistance to high nighttime temperatures. Knowing the actual mechanisms will aid breeders to develop new lines that can help decrease the risk of major crop losses due to high temperatures in the future. This project will be a collaborative effort among the University of Arkansas campuses at Fayetteville and Little Rock, Louisiana State University, and Oklahoma State University and will help develop the careers of six early career research faculty, train undergraduate and graduate students, and postdocs. In addition, the projects will build educational resources for STEM at the undergraduate level as well as K-12.

Technical Abstract

The japonica rice subspecies is the basis of most US varieties currently in production and have been used in US breeding efforts with other rice introductions from all over the world to select varieties that are tolerant to high night temperature. In this project, a diverse collection of rice lines critical to U.S. production will be screened in the field, including environments differing in night temperature, and replicated under controlled greenhouse conditions, to identify heat tolerant genotypes with contributing genes and novel mechanisms that are of interest to use in improvement of rice and other cereals for their resilience to high night temperatures. The genetic changes or identification of alleles ascribed to the desired phenotypes will be characterized at multi-systems levels: the transcriptome, metabolome, proteome, and the physiological response. Information from these analyses will be integrated into gene regulatory networks that can provide a biological understanding of plant adaptations to the changing environment documented in independent genotypes. Wildtype or mutant alleles identified from the population studies will be validated by transformation and CRISPR/Cas9 mediated allele engineering, followed by phenotypic validation to identify alleles associated with heat tolerance, as proof of concept for use in cultivar development. This Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-2 Focused EPSCoR Collaboration (RII Track-2 FEC) project brings together complementary expertise comprising senior and junior faculty from the University of Arkansas campuses at Fayetteville and Little Rock, Louisiana State University, and Oklahoma State University, to address this complex challenge in an interdisciplinary manner. The participants include six early career faculty from different institutions, who will be integrated into the interdisciplinary program to develop expertise in cross-disciplinary research projects. The project will include training of postdocs, graduate and undergraduate students, participation of 10-12th grade students in STEM girl's leadership events, and of High School teachers and students for training in Plant Genetics and Physiology.

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 Arkansas at Fayetteville
United States
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