A $2.3M Grant from Moore to Understand how Crops Fight Disease

The Moore Foundation funds plant science mostly through individual investigator awards, but a recent grant from the funder will back an international project to better understand how plants resist disease on a genetic level. 

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation is one of the most prominent science funders out there, so we’re always keeping an eye out for their more interesting projects. Diverting a bit from its usual plant science program, the foundation made a $2.3 million, special projects grant that could help biologists around the world better understand how plants defend themselves. 

At stake are crops like wheat and potatoes that, when wiped out by pathogens, can seriously endanger world food supplies.  

The grant goes to Two Blades Foundation, a nonprofit that facilitates agricultural research, and will support four teams working in Europe and the United States to understand the genetic makeup of the proteins that plants use to defend themselves. 

Typically, Moore’s interests in plant science is channeled through a joint program with Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which funds 15 individual researchers, as opposed to projects. 

Related: Why Moore Gave $1.3M to a Bunch of Food Scientists 

This grant, however, comes from a Moore special projects fund that supports work outside of the foundation’s core programs, and has a distinct research imperative that could unlock new understanding of plant immunity. There is some connection to the HHMI collaboration though, as one of the lead researchers, Jeffery L. Dangl of UNC at Chapel Hill, is an investigator in the program.

The project looks at a specific mechanism called NLR proteins, which recognize different microbes as threats and then activate the appropriate defenses. Each plant can have hundreds of these different proteins, based on the microbes they encounter. They’ve been difficult to study, but a breakthrough at the Sainsbury Laboratory developed a new technique that will allow the research teams to sequence and catalog the proteins within a set of agricultural plants, and store them in a public database. 

Related: Moore’s Flexible Pot of Funds Aims to Accelerate an Entire Field

This is another hallmark of the Moore Foundation’s funding, in that it’s not just a breakthrough for the team working on it, but could improve the overall realm of work to develop disease-resistant crops. The funder is often looking to spread new tools or methodologies that might lift up a field. 

By creating an open source database that sheds light on the genes that control immunity, it could potentially be a boon to plant scientists and agencies all over as they develop resistant crops. 

Related: There's Moore Where That Came From: A Donor's Vast Giving to a Top Science School