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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 27, 2006

UI Biologist Nets $1,973,449 NSF Grant To Study Origins Of Photosynthesis

How did early plant cells develop the ability to make use of sunlight through photosynthesis?

A University of Iowa biologist and faculty member of the Roy J. Carver Center for Comparative Genomics will use a two-year, $1,973,449 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to research the answer. Debashish Bhattacharya, principal investigator, associate professor of biological sciences in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of the UI Interdisciplinary Program in Genetics, will sequence, or map, the genome of a key, single-celled organism.

"The development of photosynthesis was a fundamental step in the evolution of our planet," he says. "To learn how this came about, we plan to investigate the genome sequence of a one-celled, photosynthetic alga (Cyanophora paradoxa). The process that gave rise to modern plant cells occurred in the common ancestor of Cyanophora, other algae and plants. This pivotal event in the Earth's history took place about 1.5 billion years ago and laid the foundation for modern terrestrial ecosystems."

Bhattacharya says that mapping the genome of Cyanophora will also lead to insights, which include identifying a set of core genes shared by algae and plants that can be studied in detail to reveal the origin of plant-specific characteristics. He points out that Cyanophora is part of the remaining plant arm on the tree of life that still lacks a complete genome sequence -- a gap that will soon be filled. "In addition, the Cyanophora genome will be invaluable for guiding the annotation of the genomes of plants and other one-celled organisms," he says.

Bhattacharya adds that he and co-principal investigator Jeffrey Boore of SymBio Corporation, Menlo Park, Calif., will lead the publication of research findings that will benefit from the input of some 35 scientists who will be invited to the University of Iowa to aid in genome annotation and analysis. The project will be accompanied by an outreach component that will include:

--Incorporating research methods into several UI courses and an NSF-funded undergraduate summer workshop.

--Publishing findings in the Microbial Life Educational Resources Web page (

--Supporting the training of three graduate and two undergraduate students.

--Recruiting one or more minority summer students per year through the UI Alliances for Graduate Education in the Professoriate (AGEP) program.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009,