Jeff Dangl (photo by Jim Bounds, courtesy of HHMI)

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill biologist Jeff Dangl has been selected to join a new research program involving 15 of the nation’s top plant scientists.

The initiative, created by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, is investing $75 million in fundamental plant science research over the next five years.

Dangl, John N. Couch Professor of Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, studies how plants recognize pathogens and respond to infection. His work has revealed key elements of plants’ multi-tiered defense systems.

He and the program’s other new investigators – selected from 239 applicants – will receive support to move their research in creative new directions. They are studying a variety of plants, such as algae, the research model species Arabidopsis (which is Dangl’s focus), maize, moss, tomato and wheat.

The institute and foundation said the investment is critical due to the world’s increasing population, which is expected to jump from nearly 7 billion people today to 10 billion people by 2050. One billion people already suffer from lack of nutrition. In addition, demand for energy is rising, increasing pressure on agriculture to grow fuel as well as food.

Dangl said he hoped his new appointment would help him recruit smart and creative young scientists to his UNC lab to help tackle such problems. While continuing his pathogen-defense research, Dangl also will expand his view of plants’ interactions with microbes. He plans to examine how a plant and its genes influence the complete community of microbes – beneficial, pathogenic and everything in between – that live in association with its roots.

More details on the program
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