Grants aid in biology research with quick-evolving plant DNA

Vidushi Shrimali

Biology professor Robert Jansen and three colleagues received a $2.4 million research grant from the National Science Foundation to study the DNA sequences in 16 plant species.

Jansen said plants have three different DNA sequences, one each in the nucleus, chloroplasts and mitochondria. The evolutionary rates of change for the sequences are remarkably high in the geranium plant.

“Nowhere else in plants do you see those types of changes occurring that rapidly,” Jansen said.

The team wants to find which genes in the chloroplasts and mitochondria are causing the changes by studying the DNA sequences of the 16 plants.

The results of the study could help improve plant growth and other development processes.

“It could potentially improve horticultural plants,” Jansen said. “[The geranium] is one of the top five in terms of money it generates in sales.”

The project will train interns from Crockett High School and the College of Natural Sciences’ Freshman Research Initiative program to participate in the research work.