In March 2016, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded members of the University of Missouri’s Interdisciplinary Plant Group, or IPG, a $4.2 million grant to fund a four-year project to study how corn maintains root growth in drought conditions. Established in 1981, the IPG seeks to encourage interdisciplinary cooperation between scientists engaged in plant molecular biology, physiology, biochemistry, genetics, biotechnology, evolution, ecology and computer science. The aim in integrating these disciplines is to stimulate joint research projects that will enhance understanding of how plants grow and develop in changing environments.

This project integrates root physiology and functional genomics (transcriptomics, plasma membrane proteomics, and metabolomics—including hormones) to deliver a comprehensive understanding of nodal root growth responses to water deficit stress in both controlled laboratory studies and in the field. The project focuses on a maize inbred line that has been shown to exhibit superior ability for nodal root growth under water-limited conditions. It will ultimately advance crop research to develop drought-tolerant corn varieties that make efficient use of available water. Such investigation is vital to sustain the projected 9 billion global population by 2050.

In addition to conducting research and training students and post-doctoral associates, the broader impacts of the grant are focused on funding summer research training internships for undergraduate minority students from Fort Valley State University. Students in the program will conduct research through a diversity component of the NSF Plant Genome Research Program.

The project also disseminates research findings and provides information to the general public through various forms of communication, technical training and outreach activities. A team of faculty and students from MU’s School of Journalism work one-on-one with researchers and report back through print and broadcast techniques, both on this website and on social media platforms.