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June 09, 2011
UD Receives Grant Funds from Iowa Science Foundation

The University of Dubuque recently received two grants totaling $8,993 from the Iowa Science Foundation (ISF) to pilot the research projects, "Nutrient Cycling in Two Rehabilitated Mississippi River Backwater Lakes," and "Delineating the Role of microRNA Mediated TCP Gene Regulation in Orchid Floral Development."

Delineating the Role of microRNA Mediated TCP Gene Regulation in Orchid Floral Development

The orchid family is one of the largest and most widespread plant families in the world. The long-term research objective is to gain insight into the molecular genetics of flower development, evolution, and diversification of the orchid family. The main focus of this project is to gain insight into the flower development and diversification of the orchid family at the molecular level. Research will be performed to determine whether the microRNA (a special type of small RNA molecules) mediated TCP gene regulation play a crucial role in petal identity, stamen suppression, and floral symmetry in orchids.

"Our knowledge on how life works is expanding rapidly," stated Dr. Rasika Mudalige-Jajawickrama, project director and associate professor of plant biology. "A decade ago, scientists almost dismissed small RNA molecules as insignificant. Today, we are learning tiny molecules (microRNA) play a big role in the development of life - from plants, to animals, and even humans. This wonderful opportunity given by the Iowa Academy of Science will allow us to find how these tiny molecules control one aspect of life; the development of beautiful flowers."

Although the orchid family contains 30,000 species and is one of the most economically important floriculture crops, we know only a very little about how this diversity is achieved. This research is focused on the genes that act as developmental switches or keys. These gene switches turn many other genes "on" or "off" to produce a specific color, shape, or scent. The task is to isolate these genes and find out how they work together to form different flowers. The second part of the project is to identify the tiny RNA molecules that are the "master regulators" of these gene switches. These tiny microRNAs do a mighty powerful job - they can change the activity of the gene switches at the right time and the right place to allow the plants to develop normal flowers. Identifying the microRNAs and finding out how they work on gene switches will reveal an important piece of the puzzle of orchid flower development.

Nutrient Cycling in Two Rehabilitated Mississippi River Backwater Lakes

Rivers are important transport mechaisms not just for water, but also for the chemicals and nutrients in the water. Due to the transport of nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus by the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico annually has a large area devoid of life that is termed a "dead zone." The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is one of hundreds found world wide. Dr. Hoffman's study aims to add to the limited knowledge base regarding the cycling of nutrients in backwater areas of the Mississippi River, and will shed light on how these backwater areas affect downstream portions of the river. Nutrient storage and conversion in these backwater areas might play an important role in the influence that the nutrients have on downstream water bodies.

"One of today's most pressing environmental concerns is water quality, and through the generosity of the IAS, my students and I will be able to conduct an investigation into the role that these unique backwater areas of the Mississippi River play in nutrient cycling and transport" stated Dr. Adam Hoffman, project director and assistant professor of environmental chemistry.

Dr. Hoffman hopes that an outcome of the study will be the development of approaches to better control and regulate the amount and type of phosphorus and nitrogen transported by the Mississippi River. This, in turn, could prove to be valuable in limiting the occurrence and magnitude of "dead zones" occurring around the world. As model backwater systems, Dr. Hoffman and his students will measure the amount of nutrients being captured in two backwater lakes, Mud Lake and Sunfish Lake.

The results obtained through these research projects will be shared through various means, such as conference presentations, including at the Iowa Academy of Science.

The Iowa Science Foundation is a state-supported grant program administered by the Iowa Academy of Science - a non-profit organization established to promote scientific research, science education, public understanding of science, and recognition of excellence in these endeavors.