Noble Foundation Scientist Receives Large Grant

The following is a news release from the Noble Foundation:

Noble Foundation scientist awarded $1.4 million grant

ARDMORE, Okla. — To the non-scientist, trichomes look like microscopic pillars on the surface of a plant. However to Richard Dixon, D. Phil., trichomes are the gateway to future discoveries in countless fields from crop viability to cancer research.

Dixon, Director of the Plant Biology Division at The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, recently was awarded a $1.4 million grant from the Plant Genome Program at the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study trichomes (pronounced “try combs”). About $300,000 of the grant will be shared with Dixon’s university collaborator, David Marks, Ph.D., from University of Minnesota.

“Trichomes are highly specialized chemical factories with tremendous potential for scientific discovery,” Dixon said. “Funding from the NSF is extremely competitive, so I know this field of research is gaining increased attention in the scientific community.”

Collaborating with Noble Foundation scientists Lloyd Sumner, Ph.D., and Patrick Zhao, Ph.D., Dixon’s team will study trichomes for the next three years, examining five species of plants, including tomatoes and alfalfa. Dixon said the study of trichomes will help scientists understand how plants make bioactive chemicals or “natural products.” These natural products serve multiple functions within the plant, providing protection from pests and infection. Certain natural products also form the basis of many widely-used medications, such as aspirin and morphine.

During the NSF-sponsored project, Dixon will sequence genetic material within the trichomes in hopes of learning how the plant produces and secretes natural products. This process has applications to both the agricultural and medical fields. If scientists can understand the functionality of trichomes, they might be able to design plants with higher resistance to diseases and pests.

Likewise, the study of trichomes might yield a better process for the production of existing medications, as well as new medications for cancer treatment and other human diseases.

“Trichome research is in its early stages,” Dixon said. “However, there is great promise here. Applications of this research have the potential to truly impact mankind.”

Additionally, the project will result in a publicly available database of plant trichomes’ gene sequences, and the chemicals that these structures contain. Dixon said the database will serve as an important resource for the scientific community.