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Dr. Matthew King Part of Multi-University Research Team to Receive $6 million Award from the National Science Foundation

Some of Idaho’s, Nevada’s, and Wyoming’s most nationally recognized scientists have secured a $6 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to predict and manage the interactions between toxic plants and the animals that consume these plants. The project, titled “Genomes Underlying Toxin Tolerance” will be known as GUTT. The GUTT team will reveal how herbivores and their gut microbes tolerate defensive toxins produced by the wild plants they consume. Our understanding of plant toxins and herbivore tolerance is important for:

  1. conservation biologists that manage native plants and herbivores
  2. the ranching and agricultural community that rely on plants to feed livestock and rely on chemicals to defend crops from pests
  3. the medical community that relies on plant-derived chemicals to manage human health.

A better understanding of plant-herbivore systems requires the expertise of many scientists with different specializations who will advance science and education by cooperating across state boundaries. This cooperation will require integration of genomics, chemistry, physiology, evolution, microbiology, population ecology, and modeling expertise in Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming to identify how variation in toxin tolerance influences the physiology, behavior, and population dynamics of wild mammalian and avian herbivores. In addition, our GUTT team will work with high school teachers and use Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences in introductory biology, chemistry, and math courses to train, inspire, recruit, and retain a diverse workforce capable of applying genetic understanding of toxin tolerance in animals and microbes to conservation, agriculture, and human health. The research and educational activities will grow capacity for Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming faculty, students, and community partners to more effectively manage toxic plants and the animals and microbes that interact with these plants.

The GUTT team will leverage the expertise and facilities at established research institutes and centers in Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming such as the Biomolecular Research Center at Boise State, the Center for Modelling Complex Interactions (CMCI) at the University of Idaho, the William Judson Boone Science Center and Harold M. Tucker Herbarium at the College of Idaho and the Northwest Knowledge Network (NKN) in Idaho; The Animal Nutrition and Microbiology Laboratory, the Nevada Genomics Center, the Nevada Cytometry Center, the Mick Hitchcock Nevada Proteomics Center, and the Nevada Genomics Center in Nevada; the Wyoming Reclamation and Restoration Center, the NCAR Wyoming Supercomputing Center, the UW Agricultural Experimental Station, the Ellbogen Center for Teaching and Learning and the Science and Mathematics Teaching Center in Wyoming.

The GUTT project expands research, teaching, and leadership capacity at five institutions across three states, including two predominantly undergraduate institutions: College of Idaho and College of Western Idaho. The GUTT Workforce Development plan leverages leaders in innovative research and transferable educational practices to build inclusive research and education capacity for 18 early career faculty that represent marginalized groups in science. The training programs will help Western states and our agency partners increase participation from underserved populations, low-income, rural and/or first-generation college students, and women through diversity programs, citizen science, and outreach.

The scientific leadership team includes Jennifer Sorensen Forbey and Eric Hayden, Associate Professors in the Department of Biological Sciences at Boise State University; Marjorie Matocq, Professor, and Lora Robinson, Assistant Professor, in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Nevada Reno; Rongsong Liu, Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics & Department of Zoology and Physiology at the University of Wyoming. Dr. Matthew King, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at Boise State University, will lead the molecular modeling efforts for the project.

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