New NSF grant supports MSU tree-flowering research, outreach


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Posted: 10/18/2005


A major federal grant recently designated for Mississippi State will enable university researchers to examine the regulation of genes associated with the flowering process in poplar trees.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the $1.75 million award includes faculty collaborators in the departments of biochemistry and molecular biology, and forestry. Also involved are research colleagues at Pennsylvania State and Virginia Tech universities, universities of Alabama and Florida, and at Umea University in Sweden.

"The initiation and formation of flower buds are critical events in life cycles of trees," said co-investigator Cetin Yuceer, an assistant professor in MSU's Forest and Wildlife Research Center. "Without flowering, there would be no seed formation for the propagation of subsequent generations."

Timely and adequate seed yields also are essential for wildlife nutrition, he explained, adding that the scientific team will conduct experiments on poplars--the only tree with a previously sequenced genome.

The three-year project also will include the organization of biotechnology workshops for Mississippi high school teachers, as well as minority high school and university students.

"On one hand, teachers will learn about recent technology developments in gene research, so that they can transfer this experience to their students," Yuceer said of the outreach effort. "On the other, minority high school and college students will learn how to conduct research at early stages in their career."

Project investigator Dawn Luthe said, "The goal of our research is to discover the major genes and their associated factors that regulate flowering in trees. The information we gain from poplars can be applied to other tree species such as oaks and pines."

The professor of biochemistry and molecular biology said the research will help scientists better understand why oak trees do not produce bumper crops every year. Additional benefits would include the manipulation of seed/fruit production, acceleration of breeding programs and increased production of woody biomass, she added.

Luthe said the MSU team is excited about the dual-level benefits of the project--unearthing tree genome secrets to advance basic tree biology while exposing future scientists to cutting-edge research.

NEWS EDITORS/DIRECTORS: For more information contact, Dr. Luthe at (662) 325-2640 or; or Dr. Yuceer at 325-2795 or