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Engineering Optimized Source-Sink Interaction in Maize and Sorghum

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This action funds an NSF National Plant Genome Initiative Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology for FY 2018. The fellowship supports a research and training plan in a host laboratory for the Fellow who also presents a plan to broaden participation in biology. The title of the research and training plan for this fellowship to Dr. Jennifer Arp is "Engineering Optimized Source-Sink Interaction in Maize and Sorghum." The host institution for the fellowship is the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and the sponsoring scientist is Dr. Douglas Allen.

As the world population increases, crop breeding efforts will need to increase yields while minimizing detrimental impacts on the environment. In particular, understanding how plants acquire and use nitrogen can help determine proper fertilizer use. Plant nitrogen demands vary in different parts of the plant based on whether the tissue is photosynthetic and acting as a source of carbon, as in leaves, or is a sink for carbon and nitrogen as in seeds. Plants with optimized source-sink relationships could break the inverse correlation between yield and protein content that is well-documented over the last 50 years. Training objectives for the Fellow include synthetic biology, genetic engineering, and metabolic flux analysis. Broader impacts include promoting plant science through outreach programs with the St. Louis Girl Scouts, ASPB Planting Science, and Future Trek STEM Careers.

This project will use a genetic approach in maize, sorghum, and the C4 model species Setaria viridis to investigate the interrelationship between asparagine cycling in nitrogen metabolism and the C4 photosynthetic pathway in leaves and seeds of cereals in order to modulate source and sink relationships. New expression patterns for genes involved in asparagine cycling and C4 photosynthesis will be engineered to optimize expression throughout the plant life cycle and break the protein and yield tradeoff. Results from this research will be disseminated at conferences and through publications. Data generated will be submitted to data repositories: Panzea (, NCBI-SRA (, NCBI-GEO (, and Maize Genetics and Genomics Database (

Keywords: Maize, Setaria, Sorghum, Nitrogen, Photosynthesis, Source-sink

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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United States Nat'l. Science Fndn.
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