Newswise — A team of scientists will study the response of rice, a food staple for half the world’s population, in saline soil conditions under a four-year, $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Plant Genome Research Program.

The study will be headed by New York University’s Michael Purugganan and Richard Bonneau, who are part of the university’s Center for Genomics and Systems Biology, in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and Fordham University.

Plants are continuously exposed to multiple environmental signals and must respond to the dynamic conditions found in nature. Because so much of the world relies on rice as a food source, its survival around the globe is vital.

Saline soil conditions, in particular, mark a growing threat to agriculture—both in the United States and in other countries—raising concerns about the viability of crops, such as rice, that feed significant numbers of people.

The researchers will examine how plants’ gene regulation can potentially lead to their adaptation in salty soils. By identifying genes that plants use to acclimate to different environments, they hope to lay the groundwork for breeding rice that can thrive in saline-laden terrains. Their work will primarily examine Asian rice, the world’s most important food crop. The project will also study African rice, a less well-known relative of Asian rice that is grown in West Africa, but which holds promise for its better tolerance to various environmental stresses.

The work will employ both genome sequencing and large-scale analysis of gene expression in rice grown both in the laboratory and the field. The study will also develop new methods for analyzing large-scale genomic data.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Faculty at NYU’s Center for Genomics and Systems Biology are combining genomic and systems biology approaches to understand how changes in genomes give rise to the diversity of regulatory networks in microbes, animals, and plants. For more, go to:

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