Developing Functional Genomics Tools for Emerging Extremophyte Models

  • Barak, Simon (PI)
  • Dassanayake, Maheshi (CoPI)
  • Sessa, Guido G. (CoPI)

Project Details


Environmental stresses such as drought, high salinity and temperature extremes reduce average yields for most major crop plants by more than 50%. In addition, most new land with the potential for agriculture is situated in harsh environments. Consequently, the improvement of crop yields under stress is vital to feed a growing world population. To improve plant stress tolerance, it is essential to have a comprehensive understanding of what genes and molecular mechanisms underlie stress tolerance thereby enabling commercial improvement of crop stress tolerance. Most studies of plant stress tolerance have focused on the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana due to the fact that its genome was sequenced early last decade - a landmark in plant sciences leading to the development of unsurpassed genetic and genomic tools and resources. Yet Arabidopsis is a stress-sensitive plant and is unlikely to possess many stress tolerance mechanisms found in naturally stress-tolerant plants that thrive in extreme environments, - so called “extremophytes”. The BSF Israeli (Ben-Gurion and Tel Aviv Universities) and the NSF US (Louisiana State University, University of Michigan) principle investigators in this current collaborative grant are recognized experts on extremophyte Arabidopsis relatives, in particular the highly salt-tolerant Eutrema salsugineum and Schrenkiella parvula. We address the problem that although the genomes of E. salsugineum and S. parvula have been sequenced, there is a huge lack of molecular and genetic tools for these species that is hampering progress in understanding genetic adaptation of these plants to their extreme environments. We remedy this problem by assembling an international team to generate a plethora of state-of-the-art tools including: (i) protocols to introduce genes into these species; (ii) thousands of plants with individual genes inactivated; (iii) proof-of-concept demonstrations of the recent, revolutionary gene-editing technology, CRISPR/Cas9; (iv) special extremophyte plant lines allowing us to monitor gene activity and function in specific cell types; (v) specialized webtools, computational platforms, and a comparative genomic toolkit to allow the plant community to easily access and mine the extremophyte genome sequences as well as other large datasets. All our germplasm and tools will be rapidly made publicly available to the general scientific community via international seed resource centers, and dedicated websites. In addition to our research endeavors, we have a comprehensive program to train and inspire the next generation of scientists from High School to Graduate level, and to undertake outreach activities to the general public. These activities include one-on-one interactions with extensive hands-on training, medium-size groups targeted at plant conference workshops, and large groups reached via online tools. We will mentor High-School bio-research projects, and an excellent Israeli High School student will participate in a summer bioinformatics workshop at Louisiana State University. Moreover, we will use our fully equipped SB Campus Radio studio ( for primary school and high school students to make science radio podcasts. Importantly, we will disseminate information on the potential agricultural benefits of the resources generated in this project to farmers and breeders in Israel, the USA and beyond.

Effective start/end date1/01/19 → …


  • United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF)


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