A West Virginia University geneticist has received a three-year, $450,000 grant from the National Science Foundations Integrative Plant Biology Program to study the genetic material linked to the ability of plants to withstand cold.

Dale Karlson is an assistant professor of genetics and developmental biology in WVU s Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences.

He will focus his research on the cold-shock domain gene family and will assess its influence on adaptations plants make to low temperatures. While this gene family has been extensively studied in bacteria and multiple animal species, little research has been done on its influence on plant life.

Low-temperature stress is a limiting environmental factor in plant production,Karlson said.Its a huge problem if plants cant tolerate cold, especially unexpected temperature extremes.

Karlson is initially focusing his research on Arabidopsis, which he describes asthe fruit flyof plant genetics. Researchers use fruit flies because of their short life cycle and because their whole genome is known.

Its the same with Arabidopsis,he explained.

Karlson is assisted in his research by doctoral degree candidate Yongil Yang of South Korea, masters student Kari Thompson of Grove City, Pa., and post-doctoral researcher Kentaro Nakaminami of Japan.

Karlson and his research team are using reverse genetics to determine the influence of the cold-shock genes. Essentially, theyll remove the genes from samples of Arabidopsis to study the effects, with a long-term goal to then replicate the experiment in more complex plant species of agricultural importance.

Ultimate goals of low-temperature stress studies aim to identify varieties of plants with agricultural production value that could be cultivated in places that might have otherwise excellent growing conditions, but have a climate thats too cold or a growing season that is too short,Karlson said.It is hoped that any advancement of knowledge with our studies may move us one step closer toward reaching these goals.