The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has received a five–year, $5.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop ozone-resistance in corn. These strains have the potential to combat the losses climate change and air pollutants have caused in crop yield. A team at the Institute for Genomic Biology in the Genomic Ecology of Global Change (GEGC) research theme will lead the research.
"Ozone can cause major damage and yield reductions in crops," says Lisa Ainsworth, Associate Professor of Plant Biology and principal investigator on the grant. "Our estimates are that ozone is costing roughly $700 million in losses in U.S. corn production." Ainsworth is also a research scientist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and an affiliate of the GEGC theme.
The team includes co-investigators Andrew Leakey, Assistant Professor in Plant Biology, and Pat Brown, Assistant Professor in Crop Sciences, both of the University of Illinois, and Lauren McIntyre, Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, University of Florida.
"Ozone can damage and stress cells by generating free radicals in cells, causing them to age more quickly," says Leakey, who will utilize SoyFACE (Soybean Free Air Concentration Enrichment), an outdoor facility for growing crops under a variety of atmospheric climatic conditions, to further this research.
Brown adds a major issue with ozone is that farmers cannot perceive it, as they could with a fungal infection or insect infestation. Developing strains resistant to ozone will not only increase yield but also reduce corn prices.
A further component of the grant will focus on outreach, including a camp for middle school and high school girls to investigate the impact of pollen on changes in climate, and a new website aimed at middle-school students called Plants iView. The site will host interactive, educational lessons dealing with plant-science topics, and those lessons will be available to local students as well as teachers across the country.