Maria Harrison, consortium of scientists receive $5 million grant to study genes that help legumes access soil nutrients

by | Dec 18, 2017

Medicago truncatula plantLegumes, including beans, peanuts, alfalfa, and more, are among a family of crops prized by farmers for their unique ability to fix nitrogen.

Legumes are able to form a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria called Rhizobia which, in exchange for shelter and sustenance, grant plants access to nitrogen that the plant could not otherwise access independently.

Similarly, a symbiosis with the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi facilitates the acquisition of phosphorous, an essential nutrient. The legume family has many soil-enhancing properties as a green manure and represents a major food source for humans, corresponding with tremendous economic value as well.

Despite advances in genomic technologies, many of the genes responsible for the biological aspects of successful symbiotic relationships remain unknown.

$5 million NSF grant awarded to a consortium of scientists, including BTI’s Maria Harrison, will support research looking into these genes. The partners on the award include researchers from the Noble Institute, Texas Women’s University, University of Delaware, Clemson University and the University of North Texas.

Using a CRISPR-Cas9 genome-editing platform, the Harrison lab will develop Medicago truncatula mutants to identify the function of genes predicted to be important for the relationship with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi.

This research has the potential to increase the efficiency with which agricultural crops access key soil nutrients, thus increasing productivity and reducing the need for ecologically detrimental fertilizers.


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