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Doane Cold Maize: Studying Plant Genes in Seedlings
Nebraska Ag Connection - 11/08/2017

Undergraduates at Doane University are part of a multi-university project studying the function of plant genes in seedlings. Tessa Durham Brooks, associate professor of biology, is working with students to discover genes in corn that might help breed varieties that are more cold-resilient, especially during spring planting.

Durham Brooks is part of a $4.1 million National Science Foundation research project to map plant phenotypes. Other partners include the universities of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Florida, and Hamline University, Doane University and Florida A&M.

Farmers in northern latitudes wish to plant corn earlier, but this is risky due to cold. Durham Brooks' students are planting corn and exposing it to cold in the lab, studying root responses, transplanting the corn outside and observing their growth through harvest. They seek genetically-linked biomarkers that could help predict cold tolerance and could be bred into new corn varieties.

One team of students developed a new way to see where molecules are released along the root system and another has created chemical fingerprints of the molecules produced by roots. Students are involved in all parts of Doane's project, Durham Brooks said, adding that the study is growing everyone intellectually.

Callie Vickers, a senior biology major from Omaha, has been on the team for several years. With a minor in creative and non-fiction writing, she is now observing her team members as part of her senior thesis project to write narratives about how science affects them as humans.

Vickers said her Durham Brooks and her English adviser, Phil Weitl, have worked across disciplines to help Vickers design her project. "That's a real advantage at a smaller university," she said.

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