Plants are essential to the survival of our planet and our species. They turn carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into oxygen. And they provide food, medicine, fuel, clothing and housing for the world’s population of 7 billion people.
Now more than ever, we need basic research on plants, which can lead to untold discoveries about how plants develop, grow and respond to environmental changes. The study of plant biology also holds the potential for game-changing applications in the fields of medicine, energy production, environmental science and more. Whether it’s for the sake of new discovery or tackling the enormous challenges our earth faces, the study of plant biology is critical.
That’s why the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) are working together to fund $75 million in groundbreaking plant research over five years.
Launched in 2010, the program solicited applications from scientists in the forefront of their fields. From nearly 250 applications, 15 scientists were selected in 2011 to receive an initial five-year appointment as HHMI/GBMF plant science investigators.
Today, these leading scientists are researching a variety of plants, including Arabidopsis, wheat, maize, tomato, moss and algae. Already, they’ve made impressive discoveries, opening up new research fields and improving crop engineering.
How we’re making a difference:
Here are just a few examples of the groundbreaking research our investigators are doing:
- Jeff Dangl’s lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is opening up a new research avenue to understand how plants interact with their microbial community, which influences their growth, productivity and impact on the environment.
- At the University of California, Davis scientist Jorge Dubcovsky is using wheat genetics to boost the nutritional content of the grain, increase yield and optimize its growing cycle for particular climates, which has critical implications for global hunger and feeding a growing planet.
- Xinnian Dong studies plant immunology at Duke University and her research probes detailed mechanisms of plant–pathogen defense and mechanisms that repair DNA damage when the plant is under attack.
Here is a full list of all 15 investigators--some of the most nation’s most innovative plant scientists--whose synergies will lead to fundamental new discoveries in the plant field:
- Phillip Benfey, Ph.D., Duke University
- Dominique C. Bergmann, Ph.D., Stanford University
- Simon W.-L. Chan, Ph.D., University of California, Davis
- Xuemei Chen, Ph.D., University of California, Riverside
- Jeffery L. Dangl, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Xinnian Dong, Ph.D., Duke University
- Jorge Dubcovsky, Ph.D., University of California, Davis
- Joseph R. Ecker, Ph.D., Salk Institute for Biological Studies
- Mark Estelle, Ph.D., University of California, San Diego
- Robert A. Martienssen, Ph.D., Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
- Elliot Meyerowtiz, Ph.D., Caltech
- Krishna K. Niyogi, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley
- Craig S. Pikaard, Ph.D., Indiana University Bloomington
- Keiko U. Torii, Ph.D., University of Washington
- Sheng Yang He, Ph.D., Michigan State University
How does the Plant Biology Investigator collaboration with HHMI support the mission of the Foundation’s Science Program?
- We want to find the best scientists in the field and empower them to innovate, invent and take risks. By providing sufficient and flexible funding to the leading scientists working today, we allow them to explore new scientific territory and seek answers to unexpected questions.
- We pursue opportunities to spark discovery to transform or even create, entire fields. Plants are outstanding examples of the power of exploratory research—plant research has resulted in a number of groundbreaking studies in genetics, such as RNA-silencing - a process that helps plants defend themselves from viruses. In addition, plants produce compounds that have been used for centuries for medicinal purposes and resulted in life-saving drugs, such as the anti-cancer drug Taxol and Digitalis for cardiovascular disease.
- We look for ways to find innovative solutions: The basic research will generate high-impact discoveries about how plants develop, grow and respond to environmental changes. The knowledge gained has numerous implications for some of the most intractable problems facing our society: food production, human health, protection of the environment, and identification of renewable energy resources.
- We fund areas of science where our funding can make a difference: Basic plant science research has long been underfunded in the United States, representing only about two percent of overall life sciences spending by the federal government. Overall, the Foundation often funds early-stage work or emerging fields that are innovative, have high potential and are underfunded such that our funding can make a difference.
- We seek respected partners to amplify our work. Our collaboration with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a leader in advancing biomedical research and science education in the United States, is an excellent example.