ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Some Missourians, like others living in the Corn Belt, have long said "if you don’t like the state’s weather, just wait a few minutes and it will change."
Now a $20 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant will fund the Missouri Transect Project to model and predict how short- and long-term changes in climate could impact the state’s plant biology and communities.
"Missouri’s economy is driven by our diverse natural and agricultural ecosystems, which are affected by climate variability," said John Walker, director of the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri, and principal investigator of the project.
Researchers will identify how plants in Missouri indicate climate-related illness and stress, using computational analysis and environmental modeling to improve plant weather resilience. They will also develop ways of informing Missouri residents of weather-related effects on plants.
Some researchers will use medical imaging equipment to identify interior signs of plant stress.
"We want to find ways to look beneath the surface and detect early indicators of stress in ecosystems, allowing us to take appropriate corrective action, such as adjusting the use of water resources," said Mikhail Berezin, assistant professor of radiology at the Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis.
Other researchers will study time-lapse pictures of Missouri ecosystems, including farm fields, to determine if there are changes in plant maturity and flowering over time. Using that information, the scientists will then give their predictions of how changes in Missouri could impact the state’s agriculture, economy and society.
One aspect of the project includes developing educational tools for Missouri residents and identifying possible future job opportunities related to any hypothesized climate changes. A professor of occupational therapy from Washington University will work with the NSF to identify career opportunities in informatics and biological sciences for young people with spinal cord injuries.
"The Missouri Transect provides groundbreaking biotechnology tools for improving crop climate resilience and educating a workforce that understands the effects of climate change on plant adaptation," said Kelvin Chu, program director at the NSF.
The five-year project includes 33 researchers in four interdisciplinary teams – climate, plant biology, community resilience and education/outreach – from the University of Missouri System, Lincoln University, St. Louis University and Washington University, as well as staff at the Donald Danforth Plant Sciences Center and St. Louis Science Center.
Similar NSF grants were announced for five other jurisdictions. Like Missouri, South Dakota and North Dakota will examine the scientific underpinnings of sustaining crop yields for agricultural production. In Kentucky, projects will focus on energy and sustainable materials with a focus on economic drivers and end-users.
Maine and the U.S. Virgin Islands received funds to focus on coastal ecological challenges. The grants are part of Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-1 awards from the NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.