New Program Boosts Support for Plant Scientists at Critical Time
HHMI Launches Collaboration with Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (GBMF) have selected 15 of the nation’s most innovative plant scientists to join a new initiative that boosts much needed funding for fundamental plant science research.
The scientists will become HHMI-GBMF Investigators and will receive the flexible support necessary to move their research in creative new directions. They represent 13 institutions from across the United States, and were selected on the basis of individual scientific excellence from a group of 239 applicants.
HHMI and GBMF formed the collaboration because of concern that basic plant science research has long been underfunded in the United States. The organizations are investing a combined total of $75 million in the new plant science research program over the next five years.
Both organizations say the investment is critical: According to the United Nations, today’s global population of nearly 7 billion people is expected to jump by 3 billion by 2050 – and one billion people are already suffering from lack of nutrition. The demand for energy is rising, even as the long-term consequences of using fossil fuels become more apparent, thus increasing pressure on agriculture to grow fuel as well as food.
Despite funding constraints that have plagued plant researchers for decades, this group of scientists has made impressive discoveries, opening up new research fields and improving crop engineering.
“We selected an outstanding group of plant scientists who will make extraordinary contributions to the field,” said Jack E. Dixon, HHMI Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer.
The new HHMI-GBMF Investigators are conducting research on a variety of plants, such as wheat, maize, tomato, Arabidopsis, moss and algae. Some of the questions they are asking include:
How can photosynthesis be made more efficient?
How can plants be efficiently propagated without seeds?
What mechanisms do plants use to sense temperature and day length and how do they use that information to decide when to flower?
How do plants control the form and function of their root systems?
What makes certain bacteria able to induce disease in plants?
How do plants recognize beneficial versus pathogenic microbes?
How do hormones control a plant’s life cycle – from embryo to senescence?
“These Investigators will acquire new knowledge about – and possibly find innovative solutions to – some of the most pressing challenges in plant sciences. GBMF and HHMI believe the research will generate high-impact discoveries with implications for a range of intertwined concerns facing society: food production, human health, protection of the environment, and identification of renewable energy resources,” said Vicki L. Chandler, Chief Program Officer for Science at GBMF.