The Panzea project (National Science Foundation, Plant Genome Research Project, award #1238014: “The Biology of Rare Alleles in Maize and Its Wild Relatives”) was a continuation of a previous National Science Foundation grant, Plant Genome Research Project, award #0820619: “The Genetic Architecture of Maize and Teosinte”. See the NSF project description here.
This project has contributed to our understanding of maize diversity and domestication for over a decade. The main focus of the project was understanding the process of domestication and improvement, and developing methods for identifying and using this natural diversity.
The group first helped establish the identity of some of the key genes responsible for the domestication of maize. It helped pinpoint where in Mexico maize was initially domesticated and uncovered the molecular mechanisms by which the domestication genes function. By cataloging natural diversity across the genome and across the hemisphere, the project identified sources of natural diversity among maize lines, landraces and wild relatives.
In addition, this project developed approaches for mapping function variation. It contributed key algorithms used for association mapping that provide high resolution and are used in all organisms today. The project also developed mapping resources for the maize community including the association panel and the maize nested association mapping (NAM) panel, which has been used extensively by the maize community for mapping and sampling global diversity. The resources created via the genetic mapping studies have been used to help unravel flowering time, height, leaf architecture and planting density, pro-vitamin A content, and disease resistance. Through these studies we have learned about the relative importance of changes in the genes versus the regulation of genes, as well as gained fundamental insights into the nature of hybrid vigor and heterosis.
Finally, the biggest of contribution of this project has been the over 100 scientists trained by the project. They are leaders in crop genetics and breeding globally. We have also inspired even more undergraduates to pursue the exciting of fields of genetics, big data, and biology.
More recently the project focused on looking at recent mutations in a wide range of germplasm, and tried to make predictions as to its effect based on its genomic context and our understanding of regulation and heterosis.