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Communication Associate: Public Relations | Lori Melton | | (218) 726-8830

October 13, 2011
Cheryl Reitan | Interim director | UMD Public Relations and Marketing | 218 726-8996 |
Julie Etterson | Associate professor | UMD Department of Biology | 218 726-8110 |

$1.2 Million NSF Award for Project Baseline

Julie EttersonJulie Etterson
UMD Department of Biology Associate Professor and Principal Investigator Julie Etterson, along with a team of co-principal investigators, has been awarded $1.2 million from the National Science Foundation.

The award is funding a four-year research initiative, Project Baseline, which includes collecting millions of seeds from a variety of wild plant species in the U.S. for a seed bank. In the future, the seeds will be studied to determine how natural selection has changed wild plant populations.

"In 5, 10, or even 50 years, we'll be able to grow ancestral seeds withdrawn from the seed bank side-by-side with contemporary collections to directly observe evolutionary changes that have occurred. Plants grown from this seed bank could show how a species reacts to drought, insect invasion, or other changes in their surroundings," said Etterson. "We'll be able to document adaptive evolution more accurately than we have even been able to before."

Along with co-principal investigators Steven Franks, Fordham University; Susan Mazer, University of California, Santa Barbara; and Ruth Shaw, University of Minnesota-St. Paul, Etterson will orchestrate dozens of people from research scientists to volunteers, as they collect seeds from 34 target species in 20 broadly distributed locations. They've divided the working groups into Eastern, Midwest, and Western regions of the country.

At each location, 50 seeds from 200 representatives of each species will be gathered. Another 50 plant species will supplement the collections with an additional 5 million seeds. Seeds will be frozen in liquid nitrogen at a germplasm facility with space donated by the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, Colo.

"It's important to do this now so future evolutionary biologists can examine how changes, including climate change, have affected these species," said Etterson.

Etterson and UMD will manage $816,200 of the funding for the acquisition of seed samples from the Midwest for the next four years.

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