in changes in plant distribution that are likely to have tremendous impact on human well being and ecosystem sustainability. Long-term records have indicated that the Earth’s atmosphere is warming at an unprecedented rate (Trenberth et al. 2007). The impacts of climate change will likely be highly variable in space and time, leading to difficult-to-predict outcomes in different parts of the world. However, predicted effects include an increase in new outbreaks of pathogen and pest infestations, and an increased frequency of extreme climate events such as droughts, fires, and floods. These predicted effects could have severe impacts on agriculture and forestry (Easterling et al. 2007). Climate change as a result of asymmetries in CO2 emissions and carbon sequestration, and growing water shortages are likely to lead to dramatic changes in agricultural productivity and land use and availability (Reddy and Hodges 1999). By increasing knowledge of how plants cope with extreme stresses, plant genomics research can help scientists to more precisely breed or engineer plants that can thrive as climates change.
Economically and energetically viable production of liquid fuels from plant biomass, in quantities that could contribute to a reversal in the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, will require increases in plant productivity and concomitant advances in biomass-to-fuel conversion. Directed modification of plant productivity and the tailoring of lignocellulosic biomass for high rates of conversion to liquid fuels increasingly depends on plant genomics to describe, at high resolution, the pathways that control biomass production, structure, and chemistry (DOE 2006).
Sustainable agriculture will require a reduction in fossil fuel-derived inputs and in agriculturally caused pollution (for example, runoff of excess nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and various pesticides) and soil degradation (for example, loss of soil carbon, and associated fertility and soil loss as a result of erosion). Meeting these goals will depend, in part, on technological advances suited to a wide variety of agricultural and ecological conditions around the world. Most crops in most years are harvested at yields that are not nearly as high as their corresponding record yields (Boyer 1982). Hence, optimal plant performance, which depends on the convergence of weather, water, and soil conditions and subsequent genome-encoded physiological responses, is much higher than what is typically achieved. Plant genomics research can contribute to understanding the mechanisms that determine optimal plant performance by identifying natural mechanisms governing plant growth, development, and adaptation to weather and water stress, and by helping to catalogue the evolutionary diversity of agriculturally important genes.
Basic plant genome research serves a wide diversity of agricultural and environmental goals. Agricultural production in the United States can be broadly divided into three categories: large commodity crops (such as corn, soybean, wheat, sorghum, cotton, and forage species), specialty crops (including fruits, nuts, veg-