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Funds will support participation by Lafayette students

Manuel Ospina-Giraldo, assistant professor of biology, is a co-principal investigator of a large scale collaborative project entitled “Phytophthora sojae: a High Quality Reference Sequence for the Oomycetes,” which was recently funded by a $2,130,497 National Science Foundation grant.

The project will deal with oomycetes, fungal-like organisms which can cause disease in important crops such as potatoes and soybeans. The study aims to annotate the genes of the phytophthora sojae genome by determining what the genes code for and the function of the protein encoded by the gene.

The investigation of the phytophthora sojae genome will use different experimental approaches, including entirely computational methods and a wet lab component such as preparation of mutants, analysis of gene expression, and other molecular biology-related experiments.

Ospina-Giraldo has been a member of the Oomycete Molecular Genetics Network for several years. It was his membership in this organization that led him to interact with other scientists who had similar research interests and allowed the project to develop.

Scientists from Bowling Green State University and the United States Department of Energy are working with him on the project.

According to Ospina-Giraldo, this research has a greater educational purpose.

“On a larger scale, we aim to build repositories of skill and experience at undergraduate institutions like Lafayette that will enable long-term undergraduate research programs to be sustained.”

Funds for the grant will support two Lafayette students to participate in the project for two years. In addition to being paid as research students in the summers of 2008 and 2009, they will also receive support to attend two national scientific meetings where they will present their findings.

Results from this study will have a positive influence on the world of agriculture.

“We know very little about how pathogens infect plants,” says Ospina-Giraldo. “Now that the genomes of several oomycete pathogens are available, it would be possible to further examine these genomes in a comparative manner, and eventually find key aspects of pathogenicity that will help us design effective means to control plant diseases.”

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