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Plant genomics' ascent

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Emily Waltz, Nature Biotechnology 28, 10 (2010)

Grants supporting plant genome research in the US have reached an all-time high. Over 2009, the National Science Foundation (NSF) doled out nearly $102 million, the largest sum since the annual grant program began in 1998.

The funding aims to increase understanding of plant gene function and the interaction of plant genomes and the environment. “This funding lets you tackle bigger problems,” says David Salt, a former grant recipient and plant biologist at Purdue University. “It lets you devise more integrated and collaborative projects.” The NSF chose 32 projects focused on “economically important crop plants” ranging from West African cultivated rice to poplar trees, according to the foundation.

The largest award, worth more than $10.4 million over four years, went to a proposal to help complete the international effort to sequence the tomato genome. James Giovannoni at Cornell University's Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research in Ithaca, New York, leads the project. The NSF also chose for the first time a switchgrass research project. With a grant worth more than $4.5 million, Thomas Juenger and his team at the University of Texas at Austin will explore over the next four years how switchgrass responds to drought and other stresses caused by climate change, to expand the knowledge needed to develop switchgrass as a biofuel crop.