Algoma U Biochemist Awarded $329,633

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Algoma University is pleased to announce that Biology faculty member Dr. Isabel Molina has been awarded $329,633 USD as a collaborator on a National Science Foundation (NSF) Plant Genome Research Project (PGRP), titled “Genomic Analysis of Leaf Cuticle Development and Functional Diversity in Maize”.

“We have a superb group of faculty and students at Algoma University working on a range of research projects that are both exciting and directly relevant to today’s society and its needs,” said Dr. Richard McCutcheon, Academic Dean at Algoma University. “We are sincerely privileged to be able to work with Dr. Molina as one of our faculty members and we celebrate her accomplishments. It is with great pleasure that we see her research being recognized by the National Science Foundation and are excited about the new opportunities this funding will provide for our undergraduate students.”

The National Science Foundation funds research and education in most fields of science and engineering throughout the United States. The NSF’s goals are to provide an integrated strategy to advance the frontiers of knowledge, cultivate a world-class, broadly inclusive science and engineering workforce, and to expand the scientific literacy of all citizens, build the nation’s research capability through investments in advanced instrumentation and facilities, and support excellence in science and engineering research.

Molina’s project will be one of the first to investigate cuticle biogenesis in maize, an important staple food for more than 1.2 billion people, which is also largely used as livestock feed and as a raw material for industrial products. The cuticle is a waxy membrane that covers the aerial plant surfaces and is an important adaptation of plants to terrestrial life. This project will generate valuable knowledge and tools that are expected to be useful for improving economically important traits related to leaf cuticle function, including drought tolerance and pathogen resistance in maize and other crops.

The funding will also allow for unparalleled research opportunities for Algoma U’s Biology students. Two students will visit United States field sites each summer, where they will assist with plant phenotyping and sample preparation. In addition to developing research skills, these students will also benefit from interactions with project participants at other top research universities.
“This grant is the result of a partnership among the University of California, Cornell University, and Algoma University researchers,” said Dr. Isabel Molina, co-PI in the project and Research Chair in Natural Products Biochemistry at Algoma U. “This research partnership will yield important information on genes that control plant cuticle biogenesis and function, and will elucidate the impact of the cuticle on agronomically important traits. That knowledge is fundamental to develop crops better adapted to climate change.”

Molina is one of six other scientists to be awarded NSF funding for this project. The project PI is Dr. Laurie Smith (University of California, San Diego) and other Co-PIs are Drs. Michael Scanlon and Michael Gore (Cornell University). Additionally, Drs. Alisa Huffaker (UCSD) and Andrew French (USDA/ARS Arid Land Agricultural Research Center) are key collaborators on this project. The total funding allocated for the project is $3,255,807 USD.