NSF-IOS Award Number 1354799​


Surface lipid metabolome on maize silks: Genetic regulation and protective capacity against abiotic and biotic stresses   This is a picture of NSF Logo

Abstract.  The aerial surfaces of land plants are protected by unique lipids, which provide a primary line of defense against numerous biological and environmental stresses. The surface lipids on the stigmatic silks of maize are biologically unique because they are rich in hydrocarbons, which are the inert end-point metabolites of the surface lipid network. This project will utilize maize silks as the model biological system to provide a fundamental understanding of this unique, discrete metabolic process by comprehensively dissecting within a single organism the metabolic and genetic networks that produce important surface lipids. Moreover, this project will elucidate the specific surface lipid constituents of maize silks that provide critical protection against environmental stresses (water stress and insect feeding) that commonly impact crops like maize during the often-stressful period of pollination. All metabolite and transcriptome data will be deposited in the Plant Metabolomics Resource database (metnetdb.org/PMR) and the latter will also be deposited in the NCBI-SRA and NCBI-GEO databases. Quantitative trait locus (QTL) data will be searchable at MaizeGDB (http://maizegdb.org/qtl.php) and made available at the integrated web portal for QTL dissection, GeneNetwork (genenetwork.org). Seed stocks for quantitative genetic mapping populations will be deposited at the Maize Genetics Cooperative Stock Center (http://maizecoop.cropsci.uiuc.edu).

A significant societal impact of this project will be enhancement of the sustainability of US crop production via increased crop yields and/or decreased inputs. The identification of the protective surface lipids and the genes that produce them will provide the technological know how for applied breeding of customized lipid compositions that protect against many stresses, both in corn as well as in other crops. Further, the chemical similarity between silk surface lipids and petroleum components will be leveraged for applications in network bioengineering to produce advanced biofuels in other biological systems. During the project, >400 high school and college students from diverse socioeconomic, geographic and ethnic backgrounds will be exposed to hypothesis-driven research via three synergistic programs: A) a collaboration with Iowa State University's SCIENCE BOUND program will engage diverse secondary school students in scientific education via hands-on research modules; B) two SCIENCE BOUND students will conduct summer-research projects together with a high school teacher from a rural or high needs district and with a student from Chowan University, a 4-year undergrad institution with significant minority enrollment. These research experiences will help the teachers better engage an even larger number of students in scientific inquiry; and C) a discussion-based undergraduate course will be developed to serve as a bridge between fundamental knowledge learned through coursework and the application of that knowledge for conducting scientific research.​

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