Just like there are computer models for rocket scientists, car engineers, astronauts and others, now there’s a model for biologists, horticulturalists and bio-engineers. And scientists are saying it could make huge differences for crop science, like the ability to develop perennial corn.
“It’s really the future,” said Andrew Hanson, a UF eminent scholar in horticultural sciences. “It’ll be a new tool in the hands of the next generation of plant breeders, just as similar tools for bacteria are now widely used in microbial metabolic engineering.”
A new tool called PlantSEED, a capstone project of several researchers from the University of Florida, has been shown to help plant scientists more quickly and easily label (or in science lingo, “annotate”) plant genes. That means that for both traditional and non-traditional breeders, identifying important genes for productivity, heartiness, and other factors, will become much easier.
“Imagine if you didn’t have to plant seeds for crops,” said computational biologist Christopher Henry, “if crops were just like your flowers and your maize just came up year after year.”
That would be nice. And getting here hasn’t been easy for scientists. The average plant has 20,000 to 30,000 gene, and in order to make very specific alterations, scientists often are seeking just one. But, that’s where PlantSEED kicks in.
The open-access PlantSEED system takes data from scientists around the world and puts the information onto one platform, providing plant models that everyone can use. Hanson compares the tool to models aeronautical engineers, who test newly designed equipment first by plugging information into computer models before building.
“You can’t really make as much use of the genome information as we should be able to until you can do that kind of modeling for plants, as well,” he said. “And that’s pretty much what this project is about.”
The design is described in detail in a study published online by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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