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VSU Researchers Will Use $475,000 AFRI Grant To Study How to Make Crops More Resilient Under Climate Change

Many crops are experiencing heat stress caused by rising global temperatures, which can result in lower crop yields. With the first 17 years of this century being the hottest on record since 1880 when modern recordkeeping began, staple crops are under increasing threat. Researchers at Virginia State University (VSU) are researching ways to help crops better tolerate extreme temperatures.

Dr. Shuxin Ren and Dr. Guo-liang Jiang, researchers at VSU’s Agricultural Research Station (ARS), have been awarded a three-year, $475,000 grant from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) program. AFRI is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the nation’s leading competitive grants program for agricultural sciences. The focus of this study is a potential heat stress tolerance gene derived from purslane, a unique plant species that tolerates heat stress and drought extremely well. 

“A newly identified gene from purslane has the potential of improving crop production, especially under the stress of elevated temperatures,” said Dr. Ren, associate professor of plant biotechnology. “High-temperature stress will significantly affect agriculture production and warrants quick action by scientists to develop heat-tolerant crops that can thrive in circumstances of heat stress.”

The awarded project will enable the ARS researchers to test the novel gene PoBAG6, isolated from purslane, for its potential to improve crops’ heat tolerance ability. The PoBAG6 gene will be transferred to corn and soybean and researchers will evaluate the ability of the transgenic corn and soybean to tolerate heat.

Laboratory research will also be conducted to evaluate molecular mechanisms used by PoBAG6. Drs. Ren and Jiang aim to identify partner proteins that interact directly with the PoBAG6 protein. It is hoped these newly identified partner proteins can provide new strategies to improve crop heat tolerance, and also enhance existing knowledge about how PoBAG6-mediated gene networks can help plants withstand heat stress.

“This research money will help us to continue to focus on wild species and identify more novel genes that can be used for crops’ abiotic stress tolerance,” Dr. Ren said. “We hope that, upon completion of this three-year project, the PoBAG6 gene can be used to engineer crop species, not only corn and soybeans but others, and enhance their ability to fight against heat stress during their growing seasons.

Founded in 1882, Virginia State University is one of Virginia’s two land-grant institutions and is located 20 minutes south of Richmond in the village of Ettrick.

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