PI: Michael R. Sussman CoPIs: Jean-Michel Ane, Joshua Coon, and Gheorghe Craciun

Medicago truncatula is a nitrogen-fixing annual legume related to alfalfa that has emerged as an excellent research organism for studies of how plants perceive and adjust to changes in their environment. Its plasma membrane is the interface between the outside world and the cellular milieu; it is where special ""receptor"" proteins perceive diffusible extracellular signals and transduce this information into the critical intracellular changes needed for successful symbiotic nitrogen fixing nodule formation. Recent genetics studies have identified key proteins in the plasma membrane and nucleus required for this process, but the mechanism by which the signal traverses the cytoplasm remains unknown. The goal of this project is to develop and use cutting edge genomic technologies, including phoshoproteomics, metabolomics and DNA chips, to determine the important molecular events by which the plasma membrane transmits information on Nod factor occupancy within the receptor, to the underlying cytoplasm. Data generated through this project can be accessed through the Wisconsin Medicago Group web site (http://medicago.wisc.edu/).

Broader Impacts. In close collaboration with UW''s NSF-sponsored Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL) and the Delta program in Research, Teaching, and Learning, the project will develop TESci, a technology education (TE) program using novel pedagogy (K-12) to engage both academic and nonacademic students in science and technology. The goals of TESci are to: (1) foster an interest in the sciences among those least likely to become engaged in scientific research, (2) develop technology skills among college-bound science students, and (3) instill the value of interdisciplinary collaboration and diversity in science. To accomplish these goals the project will bring together faculty, students, and infrastructure from three institutions: Madison East High School, Madison Area Technical College (MATC), and UW-Madison, all of which are located within a 5-mile radius. Faculty and students from each of these institutions will engage in course development, classroom instruction, and program evaluation. By participating in the chemistry and outreach components of this proposal, graduate students supported by this award will formally learn how to integrate research and teaching so that they will be well positioned to become tomorrow''s leaders of research and education. It is the hope that, with TESci, this project will create a hub of excellence for the integration of science and technology education - one that will provide a model for Wisconsin and the nation.

Project Report

This project has provided funds to support research performed by the Wisconsin Medicago Group, an interdisciplinary research team that develops and applies genomic technologies for understanding at a molecular level, how bacteria and plants communicate to create a remarkable product of evolution, the nitrogen-fixing symbiotic nodule. An important part of this conversation between the microbe and the plant is a change in the chemical composition of proteins within the cell, i.e., in the degree by which phosphate groups are added or removed to specific amino acids. For example, this project has used state of the art mass spectrometers, which are instruments that can tell us precisely which proteins are being modified by phosphate, and how much. By making these measurements with proteins extracted from plant extracts in the first hour in which the bacteria meets the plant, we are attempting to understand how the plant changes its proteins in order to initiate all of the myriad modifications in metabolism and gene expression that are required for the symbiotic nodules to form. As part of the outreach mission of this work, we have brough together a diverse group of high school students and educators in an interdisciplinary, team-learning environment, this course, called TESci (short for TEchnology and SCIence), is cross-cutting through disciplines, institutions (K-12 and university graduate level), and target populations (high school students and instructors). TESci fosters inquiry-based learning using Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectrophotometers to foster an understanding of how sophisticated instruments are designed, built and operated. For five years, it has afforded a unique opportunity to several area high schools through an intensive week-long summer training session held at the Thermo Scientific facility in Madison, WI, and an academic component, in which the instruments are loaned to participating schools for use in the classroom. TESci has demonstrated its ability to: (i) foster interest in the sciences among those least likely to become engaged in scientific research, (ii) develop technology skills among collegebound students, male and female, and (iii) instill the value of interdisciplinary collaboration and diversity in science. This program has been provided to youth in rural communities, and those attending technology-based alternative high schools. By imparting such students with a sophisticated technological education, the program has promoted a greater interest in the sciences and honed skills necessary for the kind of workforce that will innovate and design our country’s future genomic technologies.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS)
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Diane Jofuku Okamuro
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University of Wisconsin Madison
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