HudsonAlpha researchers receive federal grant to study drought stress in plants

Huntsville, Ala. — Jeremy Schmutz, faculty investigator at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, has received a grant from the National Science Foundation to study how switchgrass plants adapt to drought stress. Schmutz, who co-directs the Genome Sequencing Center at HudsonAlpha, will analyze the underlying genetics for how the grass, a native prairie plant, adapts to its local environment. HudsonAlpha will receive $602,154 over four years to complete the study.

For the project, led by Tom Juenger, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin, researchers will grow hundreds of plants with shuffled genomes from four different switchgrass varieties across 10 different locations. Then Schmutz’s team will screen those shuffled genomes for the specific gene form that is connected to the plants’ reactions to their local environments.

“We want to know how the plant regulates its response to rainfall and water availability,” Schmutz said. “We’re looking for the molecular mechanisms that allow the plant to adapt year after year.”

Switchgrass is found in native tallgrass prairies across North America and can thrive in soils unsuitable for other crops, making it useful not only for livestock grazing and to prevent soil erosion, but as a potential bioenergy source.

In addition to Juenger and Schmutz, investigators include Phil Fay and Tim Keith from the University of Texas at Austin and David Lowry from Michigan State University.

About HudsonAlpha: HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is a genomic science and applications nonprofit organization. It is a high-volume genomic data producer serving thousands of academic, clinical, and commercial clients’ needs. The Institute is a global scientific collaborator valued for its genomic data analysis and interpretation to solve some of the most pressing questions in cancer, undiagnosed childhood genetic disorders, neuropsychiatric disorders, immune-mediated disease, agriculture and public health. Its unique 152 acre campus melds the boundaries between nonprofit scientists, educators and entrepreneurs so that collaboration sparks innovation and growth. To learn more about HudsonAlpha, visit:

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