PNNL to aid cell research under $9M grant award

Annette Cary, Herald staff writer September 4, 2010 

RICHLAND -- Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will help investigate the effects of climate change on plant cells through a joint Department of Energy and Department of Agriculture program.

The joint program, focused on improving and accelerating genetic breeding programs to create plants better suited for bioenergy production, awarded $9 million for research this week.

That included $1.1 million to the University of Missouri, which will rely on the instrumentation and expertise at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory at the national lab in Richland.

"This joint effort between USDA and DOE will help accelerate research in the critical area of plant feed stocks, which hold one key to making biofuels production both cost effective and sustainable on a national scale," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a statement.

In the near term, cost-effective and sustainable biofuels are the most promising alternatives to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

The research project that PNNL will help with will look at soybeans, a promising biofuels source. Soybeans use root hairs to obtain nutrients and moisture from the soil, and the research will look at how the root hairs might respond to the high temperatures and drought conditions that climate change might bring.

"Our researchers will use high-tech analysis tools like mass spectrometers at EMSL to learn how the proteins in the root hair cells respond," said Franny White, PNNL spokeswoman. "The University of Missouri will look at how genes, transcription and metabolism are affected within the same cells."

Large amounts of data will be collected and analyzed by computer to explore responses to heat and drought at the level of a single cell.

-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com.

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