- Associated Press - Saturday, June 18, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has been awarded a $20 million grant over five years to lead a Nebraska-based research effort focused on improving crop productivity.

The grant was awarded by the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. It will fund the new Center for Root and Rhizobiome Innovation.

Researchers from UNL, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, University of Nebraska at Kearney and Doane University in Crete will study root and soil microbe interactions. The hope is to develop new biological tools to improve crop performance.

“This research is the new frontier for plant improvement,” said project co-leader Edgar Cahoon, George W. Holmes professor of biochemistry and director of UNL’s Center for Plant Science Innovation. “The root is an understudied plant organ and very important for productivity and for the ability to withstand abiotic stresses, like drought or soil salinity.”

The grant will also fund three new faculty positions, two at UNL and one at UNK.

The team initially will focus on corn, but their findings and biological tools will be applied to studying and improving other crops, including soybeans.

UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green said that innovative, collaborative research like the UNL-led project “is why Nebraska is at the leading edge of science aimed at increasing productivity and protecting critical resources.”

A key goal of the project, according to a UNL news release, is developing new biological tools to precisely modify plant genomes, targeting specific traits such as drought resistance or yield.

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