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Research Blooms in Biology Lab

Eight students are conducting research with biology Professor Simon Malcomber that could ultimately lead to increased agriculture production and new biofuels.

With the support of a three-year, $330,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Malcomber, graduate student Ashley Christensen, and undergraduate students Beverlie Baquir, Michael Batty, Richard Frederick, Katie Gallagher, Lori Glenwinkel, Sarav Patel and Daniel Woods are using state-of-the-art technology to isolate genes found in the grass family, which includes crops like barley, corn, oats, rice, rye and wheat. They are looking at the developmental and genetic changes that cause plants to look different from one another so that they can better understand how flowers appear and are arranged on a plant.

Since August Malcomber and his students have isolated genes within the SEPALLATA and RAMOSA3, gene families that affect a plant’s phenotype and flower production. Because the number of flowers on a plant directly impacts the amount of grain, their research may enable other researchers to manipulate genes to increase crop yield and even produce plants better suited to economically efficient biofuel production. 

“The students are using a number of advanced techniques in this research.  They are gaining experience in molecular, evolutionary and developmental biology,”  Malcomber said.  “This research is giving them very broad training in a diverse number of techniques that they can apply to diverse scientific careers.”

Malcomber is collaborating with professors, students and researchers across the country including Penn State University, the University of California, San Diego, the University of Missouri – St. Louis, Oklahoma State University and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories. 

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