Sci-FEST is part of a larger research project to enhance human life and the environment through science. Plant oils are a renewable source of food, fuels, and chemicals; world output of plant oils must double by 2030 to meet projected demand. A major source of plant oils comes from seeds. While research has yielded improvements in seed oil quantity and quality, there are tradeoffs for other seed attributes such as protein content and yield. For example, plants that are bred or engineered to produce high seed oil often have decreased protein content or make fewer seeds. The molecular mechanism driving such tradeoffs remains unclear and creates a barrier for making improved crops with specific amounts of oil and protein content. The scientific goal of this project is to unravel the genetic and molecular mechanisms related to the tradeoffs between oil, protein content, seed size, and seed set in order to enhance seed oil content of crops. By using an integrated approach, this project will investigate biochemical steps used by seeds to prioritize protein or oil production. Using this knowledge, this project will generate plants with improved seed oil production.
One of broader aims of this project is to promote STEM education by using the science of seed oils to train tomorrow’s scientists. Sci-FEST is a science literacy program developed to provide hands-on research experience for practicing teachers and college students who are training to become future STEM teachers. Modeled after a sister program (Sci-LiFT), the Sci-FEST will continue its endeavor to leave indelible marks on program participants to positively impact their teaching in secondary schools.