School of
Integrative Biology

SIB News

Crops in silico 2.0: Project Extended with $5 million grant

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Crops in silico (Cis) project has received a $5 million grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) to continue building a computational platform that integrates multiple models to study a whole plant virtually.

"Four crops — corn, soybean, sorghum, and wheat — account directly or indirectly for about 60 percent of human calories. Yet they are susceptible to declining yields due to the impending stresses of climate change, including water shortages, elevated carbon dioxide levels, and soil degradation," said Amy Marshall-Colón, U of I Assistant Professor of Plant Biology and the Principal Investigator for the new four-year grant.

With the global population increasing and the climate continuing to change, understanding how crops respond and may be adapted to environmental changes is needed to address current and future food insecurity. Developing crops using traditional methods is research, labor and cost intensive. However, Cisallows researchers to quickly determine and test characteristics that help crops thrive in specific environments. This modeling allows researchers to conduct more experiments than can be realistically achieved in a field. With Cis, billions of possible changes and combinations of changes can be tested to achieve more productive and sustainable crops in different environments.

Researchers have extensive knowledge about models depicting individual processes that drive plant growth and development, and how plants use resources. Until now, researchers have yet to combine this knowledge into whole plant models that mimic biology. This project integrates diverse computational models. Using the whole system model, researchers will determine how crops respond to environmental changes at all biological levels, from cellular to ecosystem-level interactions.

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Publication Date: 03/15/2019
Photo credits: Jordan Goebig, iSEE Communications Specialist