Program unites technology, expertise to better study of plants

Diego Cruz

UT researchers presented a project joining the future of computational technologies and plant science.

Computational technology will play a critical role in the plant sciences that affect crop development in the future, a UT scientist said in a talk Tuesday.

The iPlant Collaborative is a virtual organization designed to bring together experts from different fields to overcome challenges in plant science. Dan Stanzione, deputy director of UT’s Texas Advanced Computing Center, shared information about the project at the AT&T Conference Center to about 150 people.

The National Science Foundation funded the project in 2008. UT manages it in conjunction with the University of Arizona and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

Plants are an essential part of life due to their production of oxygen and use for creating building materials, clothing and most importantly food, Stanzione said.

Stanzione said current trends paint a grim picture for the future of crops and society, including the spread of over-consumptive diets, the decrease of arable land, population growth, climate change, use of crops for bio-energy instead of consumption and the increase of prices and subsequent political unrest.

“Doing the same old thing will get us less and less results,” he said.

Stanzione said a new computational platform was necessary for scientists to discern the challenges faced by the scientific community in learning more about how plants work and how to solve agricultural problems with this knowledge.

One such problem is understanding the relationship between specific genes and the qualities we care about in plants, also known as phenotypes, said Matthew Vaughn, a research associate at the Texas Advanced Computing Center.

He said iPlant would help restructure the way plant science is done, help overcome practical and theoretical challenges and increase effective communication between researchers.

The presentation was part of the Austin Forum on Science, Technology and Society, an event organized by the Texas Advanced Computing Center, organizer Faith Singer-Villalobos said.

“The goal for the event is to engage the community in topics of science and technology, but more importantly of how they impact society,” Singer-Villalobos said.

She said the monthly events were also an opportunity to network diverse audiences in a comfortable and engaging environment.

Computer sciences senior Joe Cruz said these presentations were an intriguing opportunity to interact with important people in the world of science and technology.

“It gives a glimpse of the world beyond theory and at the industry landscape,” Cruz said.