New $12.5 million National Science Foundation grant awarded to study phenomenon affecting agriculture, cancer, biodiversity and more

It’s in your heart and liver, in the vegetables you eat, in the rogue cells that cause cancer. Those who live in temperate regions are surrounded by more of it than people who live in the tropics, and without it, humans wouldn’t exist. 

It’s called polyploidy, and only within the last few years have biologists begun to recognize its significance across the tree of life.

“It’s one of the most important biological processes that hardly anybody knows about,” said Doug Soltis, a distinguished professor at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Soltis is one of 18 scientists who have received a combined $12.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to establish the Polyploidy Integration and Innovation Institute. The grant is part of a broader initiative by the National Science Foundation to bring together scientists from disparate areas of expertise to work on pressing problems in biology.

“Polyploidy is a perfect topic for this sort of integration,” said Pam Soltis, a distinguished professor and curator at the Florida Museum and lead investigator on the project. Researchers with the institute will study the effects of polyploidy in plants and animals, from entire ecosystems down to organs and cells.

“We want to conduct a set of experiments that is consistent across organisms,” Doug Soltis said. “This is the first time we’ll be able to determine whether there are consistent rules that govern polyploidy.”

The institute will also use new and unique data management tools and prioritize community engagement to gain as much insight as possible, with eventual applications to agriculture, medicine and conservation, Pam Soltis said. Educators on the team, including the Florida Museum’s Brian Abramowitz and Stephanie Killingsworth, will take the knowledge generated by the institute and use it to implement a strategic communication and outreach campaign.

“The institute will guide high school curriculum development and teacher training; provide research experiences for undergraduates, graduate students and post-doctoral researchers; and offer training in science communication, while hosting local and international research conferences,” Pam Soltis said.

Read more here. 

Jerald Pinson June 3, 2024