Jan 04, 2011  |  Today's News |  Biotechnology

Recognizing the importance of research developments to the long term viability and profitability of corn farmers, the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, using corn checkoff dollars, has funded two doctoral fellowships at the University of Illinois.


The two fellows started their work last fall and are now beginning the second semester of the academic year at U of I. The PhD candidates in the U of I Department of Crop Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES), will work in corn genetics, an area which ICMB hopes to see continued interest among the sharpest minds in the industry.


Sarah Potts will undertake her doctoral program in corn breeding, investigating gene expression associated with stress tolerances. After completing her degree, she plans to work as a plant breeder in the private sector and eventually become involved in an academic capacity.


C. Cole Hendrix's program will focus on improving nitrogen use efficiency in corn. After graduation, he is aiming for a career with a biotechnology company where he can apply both his business and scientific knowledge to meet the challenge of enabling crops to perform in ways not previously thought possible.

Other current research work at the U of I is described below.

University of Illinois research makes plant breeding easier


URBANA – University of Illinois research has resulted in the development of a novel and widely applicable molecular tool that can serve as a road map for making plant breeding easier to understand. Researchers developed a unified nomenclature for male fertility restorer (RF) proteins in higher plants that can make rapid advancements in plant breeding.


“Understanding the mechanism by which RF genes suppress the male sterile phenotype and restore fertility to plants is critical for continued improvements in hybrid technology,” said Manfredo J. Seufferheld, U of I assistant professor of crop sciences.


“Up to now, there has been no unified nomenclature for naming the RF proteins,” Seufferheld said. “As the systematic sequencing of new plant species has increased in recent years, naming has been simply arbitrary. We have had ‘chaos’ in the databases. The RF information in the databases could not be adequately handled in the context of comparative functional genomics.”


This new tool will help plant breeders and scientists make decisions more quickly. Breeders can now easily match sterility in plants to male restorer mechanisms. Ultimately, growers may benefit sooner from new developments in plant breeding since breeders will be able to generate new hybrids at a faster pace, Jimenez-Lopez said.


“Genomic sequencing, coupled with protein modeling, allowed us to begin dismantling this complexity that has held us back in the field of science,” Kotchoni said. “Now we can easily compare unknown gene functions to known and well-characterized genes in order to determine their functions and family hood.”


With many teams of researchers competing to finish this task first, Kotchoni said it has been an honor to have this model accepted as the new standard for RF protein nomenclature. This system has been developed as a building block for plant genomics.