Catalysis Meeting

Toward a new synthesis of the evolutionary history and ecology of c4 grasses

PI(s): Erika J Edwards (Brown University)
Caroline A E Stromberg (University of Washington-Seattle)
Colin P Osborne (University of Sheffield)
Start Date: 27-Jun-2008
End Date: 26-Sep-2009
Keywords: comparative methods, phylogenetics, systematics, database, GIS modeling

"C4 photosynthesis" refers to a suite of biochemical and anatomical traits that increase photosynthetic efficiency in high-temperature environments. The most prominent C4 plants are C4 grasses, which are among the most economically and ecologically important organisms on Earth. They comprise 20-25% of global terrestrial primary productivity, are the staple diet of many human cultures, and hold great promise for genetic engineering and biofuel production. The evolutionary history of C4 photosynthesis in grasses is complex, with multiple origins and a general lag-time between the evolution of the pathway and the appearance of C4-dominated ecosystems. The worldwide rise of C4 grasslands during the late Miocene was arguably among the most dramatic events of biome evolution in Earth history, but key questions regarding the "C4 grass phenomenon" remain unanswered. Recent years have seen extraordinary advances in our understanding of diverse aspects of C4 grass biology, providing a fertile ground for re-examination of several fundamental questions regarding the evolution of C4 grasses. Our cross-disciplinary team of experts in paleobiology, C4 physiology and ecology, grass systematics, molecular phylogenetics and comparative methods, evolutionary development, functional genomics, and GIS-based distribution modeling will address three primary goals: 1) initiate a new synthesis of what drove the evolution and subsequent ecological success of C4 grasses; 2) outline a nested, hierarchical sampling scheme of grass taxa for use in comparative studies that maximize phylogenetic diversity and C3/C4 sister group comparisons; 3) develop a database schema to centralize information on these taxa, and promote data sharing across disciplines.

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