DAVIS, Calif. -- The University of California on Thursday said itis establishing a biotechnology research center here to studyand combat plant diseases through a five-year grant of up to$10.4 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Scientists at the Center for Engineering Plants for ResistanceAgainst Pathogens (CEPRAP) will use the tomato as a modelsystem to understand how plants respond to disease-causingbacteria, fungi, viruses and plant parasitic nematodes.

Calgene Inc. of Davis and Ciba-Geigy Corp. of Research TrianglePark, N.C., will provide up to $200,000 in additional funding forgraduate and postdoctoral students. Indirect support throughfunding of related programs at UC Davis will come from theCalifornia League of Food Processors, the California TomatoBoard, Hunt-Wesson Foods and Ragu Foods.

The NSF encouraged the university to seek corporate partnersto facilitate the commercialization of useful technology, saidDavid Gilchrist, associate director of CEPRAP. Industry affiliateson an advisory board will counsel the center on industry needsand research questions of interest to industry.

The goals of the center are to identify and examine the genesand molecules that control how plants recognize disease-causing agents; investigate what makes plants susceptible toinfection and how plants resist infection; and develop ways tointerfere with the reproduction and spread of plant pathogens.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that plantdiseases cause $9 billion in U.S. crop losses annually.

CEPRAP will be based at UC Davis and will involve additionalresearchers from Calgene Inc., UC Berkeley, Cornell Universityand Washington University in St. Louis. George Bruening,professor of plant pathology at UC Davis, will be the center'sdirector.

CEPRAP will receive $1.1 million from the NSF in its first yearof operation. NSF funding may continue for up to 11 years ifthe NSF's evaluation of the center is favorable.

-- Karen Bernstein BioWorld Staff

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