CoPIs: Sarah M. Assmann (Pennsylvania State University), Joel S. Bader (Johns Hopkins University), John K. McKay (Colorado State University), Scott C. Peck (University of Missouri - Columbia), and Julian I. Schroeder (University of California, San Diego)
Collaborators: Gregory J. Hannon (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory/HHMI), Joachim Kopka (Max-Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, Germany), Robert A. Martienssen (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory), and Hong Gil Nam (Pohang University of Science and Technology, South Korea)
Senior Personnel: Felix Hauser (University of California - San Diego), Xiaofen Jin (Penn State University), Corban Rivera (Johns Hopkins University), and Florent Villiers (University of Maryland - College Park)
Drought causes severe damage to crops, resulting in major losses in yield. Fresh water scarcity is one of the paramount global problems of the 21st century. As global temperatures rise, there will be increased variability in amounts and distribution of precipitation. This will result in profound impacts on global fresh water resources, over 65% of which are used for agriculture. There will be increased competition for water from municipal, industrial, and agricultural users. Development of more drought-tolerant and water use efficient crop varieties can help to address this situation while minimizing crop losses from drought, and is the ultimate application of this research. This project will focus on canola (Brassica napus), which is an important oilseed crop grown for both human consumption and biodiesel production. Under drought conditions, land plants such as canola retain water by closing microscopic pores in their leaves through which water vapor is lost. Each one of these pores is called a stomate, and each stomate is bordered by a pair of guard cells which swell or shrink to regulate the stomatal pore size. Plants lose over 90% of their water through the stomatal pores. In this project, analyses of guard cell transcriptomes, proteins and metabolites in Brassica napus and a genomic scale artificial microRNA library will be used to elucidate networks of guard cell signaling and genes regulated in response to drought and abscisic acid (ABA), the plant hormone that signals the presence of drought and mediates drought resistance. These data sets will further be used, together with next generation deep sequencing approaches, for mapping of quantitative trait loci (QTL) in Brassica napus double haploid (DH) lines in which QTL for natural variation in sensitivity to drought and stomatal conductance have been identified. Models generated from the integrative analysis of this information will provide a blueprint for improvement of water use efficiency and desiccation avoidance of crops. Genetic analyses and manipulations in canola will be used to define causal interactions among network components and whole plant performance (yield).
These research activities will generate a new "systems biology" view of a single plant cell type that can be used to manipulate guard cells in development of practical universal strategies for improving water stress tolerance of a wide variety of crop species. Each site will broaden the impact of this research by involving high school students and undergraduates from under-represented groups in the project. Undergraduate students from each lab will participate in a new program on Plant Science and Public Policy to be hosted at the University of Missouri that will educate the students about communicating research findings to the general public. The project will provide extensive mentoring to prepare postdoctoral associates and students for future research careers. All data sets, protocols, and biological resources will be released to the public through a project website (to be determined) and through the relevant long-term data repositories that include the Arabidopsis Biological Resource Center (ABRC), the Multinational Brassica Genome Project (www.Brassica.info), Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO), IntAct (www.ebi.ac.uk/intact) and BioGRID (www.thebiogrid.org).