MSE’s Jiang receives EAGER award to study using CRISPR to improve crop plants

Shan Jiang, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, has received a U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Early Concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER).

Jiang and his team will investigate methods of using CRISPR-Cas9, a sequence of DNA that is able to cut DNA strands to make edits, to create varieties in crops. CRISPR has already shown great potential in editing the genes in animal cells, but there is not yet an efficient and precise method for delivering CRISPR to plant cells.

The team will be able to test delivery agents to determine the best method of editing the DNA of plant cells to create variety. This research will aid understanding of crop breeding and improve both public and private uses of plant gene-editing.

The research grant will also assist in the development of a new educational outreach opportunity in agriculture and plant biotechnology for K-12 students.

This funding is made through NIFA’s flagship competitive grants program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. EAGER is established through a joint interagency partnership between NIFA, the National Science Foundation’s  Biological Sciences Directorate, and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council of the United Kingdom to foster the development of breakthrough technologies in crop breeding. NIFA EAGER awards address barriers to improving crop varieties, such as introducing genetic variation from wild relatives, induction of double haploids, producing hybrid seed, high-throughput field phenotyping and big data analysis tools, efficient delivery systems for gene editing and plant transformation, and understanding epigenetic inheritance.