The small RNA has big implications for crop growth

COLOMBIA, Mo. – Blake Meyers’ interest in plant science dates back to his childhood when he helped his mother tend the family vegetable and flower garden in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Today, Meyers is a professor of plant science and technology at the University of Missouri and a researcher at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, an independent, non-profit research institute in Saint Louis County. In May, it became the 12th MU faculty to be elected into the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), one of the highest honors a US scientist can receive.

“Mizzou is a world-class academic house that has outstanding faculty students and researchers at all levels,” Meyers said. “The Danforth Center is truly focused on plant science and our strengths are our state-of-the-art facilities and relationships in the St. Louis area, a hub for the biotech and agricultural industries.”

Meyers credits the mentors and supervisors who have assisted him throughout the various stages of his career and enjoys paying him by mentoring the many brilliant young scientists who work with him at the Danforth Center.

“Now I can see where people have gone after working in my lab, in various positions in academia, government and industry,” Meyers said. “It is gratifying to see the impact they have and to think that perhaps I have contributed in small ways in an important phase of their career is a great honor and privilege.”

UM President Mun Choi said Meyers’ election to NAS reflects the professor’s deep commitment to excellence in plant science research and MU’s strong reputation as a research university.

“As a flagship AAU institution, land concession, we provide our faculty with state-of-the-art tools and investments so they can compete nationally,” said Choi. “Our partnership with the Danforth Center enables us to expand plant science research through rich collaboration and we look forward to Professor Meyers’ continued success as he and his colleagues aim to solve some of the biggest challenges in plant science. “.

Established under a statute of Congress signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, NAS is an active and active academy whose members advise the nation on issues where scientific insights are critical.

Meyers and his team are studying small ribonucleic acid (RNA) – a nucleic acid found in all living cells that has structural similarities to DNA – in plants to help maximize yields, which could have huge implications for addressing this. food insecurity around the world while helping the environment at the same time.

“Our lab studies RNAs, particularly those that work in pollen production, which plays a key role in producing hybrid crops,” Meyers said. “Hybrid crops have huge yield benefits; they can produce up to 50% more yield for a given area. So, for the same land and the same chemical inputs, you can produce much more yield, which is a huge benefit for the environment, given the growing concerns about environmental degradation and sustainability. “

While he was an undergraduate researcher at the University of Chicago, Meyers studied a species of wildflower. He later worked with lettuce, a billion dollar crop in California, during his undergraduate studies at the University of California, Davis. As a postdoc at UC Davis, he began researching the molecular biology of corn, a crop that his lab at the Danforth Plant Science Center continues to study today.

“When I was a postdoc, I worked for a company where the goals were more industrial than academic,” Meyers said. “Working on corn and lettuce really made me appreciate the impact of molecular biology on crops and inspired the work I do today.”

Meyers started his laboratory in 2002 at the University of Delaware, where he began studying Arabidopsis, a plant species known for its usefulness in genetic experiments as a model organism, before moving on to the study of rice, soy and corn.

“The molecular technology and tools we can use to answer our scientific questions have developed tremendously over the past 20 years,” said Meyers. “This includes the ability to rapidly sequence the genome of a particular crop of interest, the ability to alter genes in different ways and ask what the result is in terms of how the plant grows. Microscopy and imaging allow us to go below the level of a cell to observe single molecules. So, we can ask where a single RNA of interest is, what cell it is in, what part of the cell it is in, how many copies of that RNA are in that cell, and how one cell type compares to another. cell genus? “

Meyers moved to St. Louis County in 2016 as part of a joint initiative between the Danforth Plant Science Center and the MU to elevate plant science research in the Midwest. Since then, the partnership has generated a growing portfolio of innovations in plant genetics and biotechnology.

“For global challenges, there are climate change, pollution, the expansion of cities, population growth and the demand for limited resources, which puts a strain on our production systems and the environment,” Meyers said. “Plants are used for food, fuel and fiber and are the key to a sustainable future, so we need to make sure we are good stewards of our precious resources to help farmers, the environment and improve the human condition.”

Now with a family of her own, Meyers still takes care of her own garden where she grows cherry tomatoes.

“The joy of science is pursuing that curiosity and being able to feel and see the products of your work,” Meyers said. “The rate of scientific advancement is steadily increasing and it is exciting to be a part of it.”

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