A Mississippi State forestry faculty member is receiving $500,000 from the National Science Foundation to gain a better understanding of how trees initiate sexual reproduction.
Assistant professor Cetin Yuceer of the university’s Forest and Wildlife Research Center is being honored with a 2009 NSF Early Career Development Award. He will be seeking to identify and characterize genes that control reproductive bud formation in poplars, fast-growing trees that hold potential use as sources of bioenergy.
The Early Career Development Award is the independent federal agency’s most prestigious award for junior faculty members "who exemplify excellence in research, teaching and the integration of education and research." Only 425 awards are provided annually across the various research disciplines.
George Hopper, Forest and Wildlife Research Center director, said "knowledge from this study will help us better understand the processes that control flowering in trees, and if we can control flowering, we can improve biomass production."
Producing more wood is important as MSU scientists work daily to find ways to produce better trees with more volume for our state’s forest products industry, Hopper observed.
A previous study by Yuceer and colleagues in MSU’s departments of biochemistry and molecular biology identified FT2, the gene that controls the first-time and annual flowering of trees. Now, he will be investigating how FT2 and other genes function in signaling reproductive bud formation in poplar trees—a critical event in the life cycle.
"Although forest trees are economically and ecologically important, they are the least domesticated crop species due in part to the long period of time between seed germination and first reproductive bud formation," the MSU doctoral graduate explained.
"By advancing our understanding of the mechanisms which control reproduction, we can lay the foundation for accelerating tree domestication," Yuceer added.
A major component of the study will be the development of educational activities for elementary and high school students and teachers in genomic and post-genomic biology.
"Workshops for students from historically underrepresented groups and secondary teachers will be developed, as well as science fairs for elementary school students and teachers," Yuceer said.
Integration of genomic and computational research with student and teacher education is an investment in the future of science and in maintaining globally competitive bio-based industries, he said.
In addition to the doctorate, Yuceer holds a master’s from Mississippi State, as well as a bachelor’s degree from the University of Istanbul in his native Turkey.
The National Science Foundation was created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; and to secure the national defense."