Elizabeth has spent her career studying cereal crops and their wild relatives in the grass family, plants on which all of civilization depends. Her unique contribution has been to forge connections between scientists in the front lines of biodiversity research and those breaking new ground in genetic and genomic studies.
The Kellogg lab's work identifies deep similarities among plants as apparently disparate as rice, wheat, maize, and the other cereals. Because similarity and difference are two sides of the same coin, in the process they have also discovered genes that contribute to the diversity of the great cereals of the world.
Grant-supported projects in the Kellogg lab: NSF-IOS 1557633 Collaborative Research: Genetic Comparisons of Abscission Zones in Grasses A collaboration with Andrew Doust and Julie Angle, Oklahoma State University
At the dawn of agriculture, our ancestors harvested wild grains and began replanting them year after year. This process rapidly led to selection for grains that stayed on the plant, instead of falling on the ground. Now, 10,000 years later, this capacity to stay on the plant until harvest has obvious economic importance. The change from wild grains that fall and cultivated ones that do not is caused by naturally occurring mutations in a normal (that is wild) process. However, the process of shedding seeds occurs differently in different grains. For example, the details of dropping seeds in wild rice are different from those in wild sorghum or wild millet. This project will discover what natural mutations led to the cultivated grains, and whether the natural process of shedding seeds in rice, sorghum, and millet is genetically similar. Because retaining seeds on the plant is the very basis of agriculture, it is an obvious aspect of plants that can engage students at all education levels. Master teachers and undergraduate education majors at Oklahoma State University will participate actively in the observations and data collection required for the project. US Golf Association Developing phenotypic and genomic tools to study salt tolerance in seashore paspalum A collaboration with Ken Olsen, Washington University, and Ivan Baxter, DDPSC
Plants have a hard time growing in salty soil because the salt interferes with the uptake and movement of water. This project investigates a highly salt tolerant grass, Seashore paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum), which is a turfgrass used for golf courses on salty sites such as coastal dunes. This project aims to determine the genetic basis of salt tolerance in seashore paspalum, using 1) new methods to measure the amount of salt in the plant (“ionomics”), 2) whole-genome sequencing (“genomics”) and 3) wild population samples, which may be even more salt tolerant. Improving turfgrass to handle salt affected soils is a goal of the golf industry, and is also directly relevant to agriculture. The new methods used in this project will make salt tolerance measurements more precise, and this added precision will increase the efficiency of turfgrass breeding and research. Our use of whole genome data will provide genetic tools not commonly seen in breeding programs outside of the world’s staple food crops. The development of more robust turfgrass cultivars that require less fresh water and fewer chemical treatments is a critical step in increasing the environmental sustainability of the golf industry. NSF-DEB 1457748 Evolution of dispersal and pollination in ecologically dominant grasses A collaboration with Christine McAllister, Principia College, and Rémy Pasquet, IRD, France
The tallgrass prairie of North America is an iconic landscape, central to America history. The grasses from which the prairie takes its name are close relatives of those that make up the vast grasslands of eastern Africa. The grasses provide food for livestock and wild animals, and habitat for birds; they also pull carbon from the atmosphere and bury it deep in the ground where it supports beneficial microbes that make the rich soil on which American agriculture depends. This project is a collaboration between research scientists at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri, undergraduates at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, and colleagues in eastern Africa, and is aimed at unraveling the ways the grasses spread their pollen, how they provide their seeds with carbon, and how the seeds are dispersed across the landscape. This information will tell us how the grasslands will respond in the face of current disturbance such as fire, urbanization, and conversion to farmland, and future disturbances caused by a changing climate. NSF- IOS 1413824 Collaborative Research: The Role of Suppressor of Sessile Spikelet1 (sos1) in Meristem Maintenance and Determinacy A collaboration with Paula McSteen, University of Missouri
The seeds of grasses produce most of the calories that feed the world. Grass seeds are formed in specialized structures (spikelets) that can be produced singly or in pairs. Therefore making spikelets in pairs can double the number of kernels from one plant. Understanding the genes that control paired spikelet formation is therefore of great practical significance as this information could be used to double yield in cereals that produce single spikelets. The identification of the suppressor of sessile spikelet (sos) loci in maize provides a breakthrough into the understanding of the formation of the paired spikelet. Molecular, cellular and developmental approaches will be used to dissect the function of Sos1. Additional molecular and developmental studies of Sos2 and Sos3 will enable the identification of additional genes regulating paired spikelet formation. The Sos loci will enable the dissection of fundamental developmental processes, as well as providing insight into the evolution of grass inflorescence architecture. NSF-IOS 1546882 Research-PGR: Dissecting the genetic networks underlying Kranz anatomy in C4 grasses
Declining yields, increasing population growth and shifting climates are converging to create a perfect storm for agriculture. The looming threats to food security demand transformative innovations in agriculture that will drive the second green revolution. Maize is the most economically important crop in the U.S providing food, feed and bioenergy to the global economy, and is also one of the most photosynthetically productive plants on the planet. This productivity is driven by a process known as C4 photosynthesis, a pathway also used by grasses such as sorghum, sugarcane and Miscanthus. Under hot, dry conditions C4 systems are significantly more productive than C3 crops such as rice and wheat. This project aims to identify the foundational genetic and regulatory networks that control the differentiation of cell types in maize leaves. A major conceptual breakthrough in understanding the development of C4 photosynthesis was the discovery that a cell fate module from the root was co-opted to drive a leaf specific cellular differentiation program. Importantly, this model predicts that only a handful genetic changes could lead to a major reprogramming of leaf cell fates. This project will test this prediction and expand on our understanding of the gene regulatory networks that drive both biochemical and anatomical innovations associated with C4 photosynthesis. The results of these studies will not only provide candidate genes for engineering C4 traits into C3 crops, but also provide novel targets for improvement of existing C4 crops such as maize, sugarcane and sorghum.