sealPurdue News

September 30, 2002

NSF gives $1.6 million grant for Purdue plant genome research

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University research in comparative plant genomics has received a five-year $1.6 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that will allow scientists to advance knowledge of important food crops.

The NSF on Thursday (9/26) announced the Young Investigator Award was being given to Scott Jackson, assistant professor of agronomy, and Phillip SanMiguel, director of Purdue's Agricultural Genomics Core facility, as part of its National Plant Genome Research Program. The program began in 1998 to encourage work that eventually will yield ways to improve crop production.

Jackson and SanMiguel employ comparative genetic mapping and comparative genomics to find ways to improve plants' growth despite various factors that currently limit production. The implications of this work extend beyond agriculture, according to the NSF. Because plant and human genomes are similar, the information could have significant impact in human medicine.

"We are using the rice genome, which has been completely mapped, to find specific DNA segments, then we compare it to the DNA in other plants," Jackson said. "This aids in studying other plants' genomes that haven't been fully sequenced."

Jackson and SanMiguel use genetic maps, which show the order of genes, but not the physical distance between them, and physical maps, which show the location of a sequence on a chromosome. This information allows scientists to locate genes so they can gain an understanding of how they function in plants.

"Our mapping will help us figure out how chromosomes relate to the fate of plant cells," Jackson said. "Hopefully this will reveal how we can regulate gene function and eventually allow us to build artificial chromosomes."

SanMiguel utilizes high throughput DNA sequencing to compare genome structure among grains.

"Our view of grain genomes transformed in the 1990s when we learned that even genomes drastically different in size, such as rice, maize and wheat, have a remarkably similar overall structure," SanMiguel said. "It was like discovering that Lafayette, Indianapolis and Chicago had basically the same layout; if you knew the street layout of Lafayette, you could navigate Indianapolis or Chicago reasonably well.

"This grant lets us use the rice genome as a map for the genomes of some closely related species," he said.

The information gleaned in Jackson's and SanMiguel's work will add to scientists' arsenal of methods to control gene function to improve plant development, nutritional content and plant resistance to pests and disease. For instance, ability to control certain genes in soybeans may enable researchers to improve seed development, oil content and resistance to pests, such as nematodes, and diseases, such as sudden death syndrome.

The award to Jackson and SanMiguel is one of 23 grants totaling $75.6 million the NSF Plant Genome Research Program made this year. Jackson, who came to Purdue in fall 2001, and SanMiguel, who joined the Purdue faculty in 1998, received one of only eight awards in the inaugural Young Investigator in Plant Genome Research division. Those awards totaled $9.5 million.

Writer: Susan A. Steeves, (765) 496-7481,

Sources: Scott Jackson, (765) 496-3621,

Philip SanMiguel, (765) 496-6328,

Related Web sites:

Purdue University Agricultural Genomics
Purdue University Department of Agronomy

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes,;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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