Drought conditions across the Great Plains and the Midwest has a significant impact on agricultural production in these regions. For example, the severe 2012 drought in the Great Plains and the Midwest accounted for $14.5 billion in losses. Finding and promoting the growth of variations of crops and grass that are more resistant to drought and related weather challenges can reduce the economic and environmental impact of drought on the Great Plains, the Midwest, and Iowa.
A particular species of forage grass, Andropogon gerardii, is common across the Great Plains and has many genetically different strains. These strains respond differently to drought and related environmental challenges based on their phenotypic and genetic variations. Erliang Zeng, associate professor in the Iowa Institute for Oral Health Research and Loretta Johnson, a biologist at Kansas State University are working together to identify genetic and phenotypic traits of variants that improve resistance to drought. Using Zeng’s expertise in bioinformatics and computational biology, the team is identifying drought-resistance and developing prediction models linking phenotypes and genotypes that are associated with those traits.
The overall aim of the research is to improve our understanding of the mechanism about how organisms adapt to severe conditions such as drought and recommend traits for further genetic development. The United Stated Department of Agriculture provided almost $100,000 to support Zeng’s contributions to the project.