MISSOULA – Understanding how wild animals and plants survive in changing environments is the focus of a new collaboration between researchers at the University of Montana and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The network of researchers that are part of UNVEIL – ­Using Natural Variation to Education, Innovate and Lead – aims to advance understanding of how organisms cope with environmental challenges and how complex traits arise from variation in genomes.

Network members will collaborate on three core research projects that use newly developed genomic technologies to understand the genetic basis of traits that influence the survival of wildlife and plants in changing environments.

“Such general insights have major implications that extend beyond conservation to the fields of agriculture and medicine,” said UM wildlife biology Assistant Professor Zac Cheviron, principal investigator for the project. “We will also bring together an interdisciplinary group of philosophers, geneticists, wildlife biologists and natural resource managers to develop guidelines for when and how genomic interventions should be used.”

To help ensure the research advances have real-world utility, research scientists will work closely with other stakeholders to develop guidelines to apply the genomic information to conservation.

The UNVEIL network also will provide an ideal environment for postdoctoral and student training in cutting-edge science and the ethical complexities of using genomic insights in conservation.

The UM co-investigators on the project are biology associate professors Jeffrey Good and Lila Fishman, wildlife biology Professor Scott Mills and Associate Professor of Ethics Dane Scott. The UM team will collaborate with co-investigators at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, who include Jay Storz, Kristi Montooth and Colin Meiklejohn.

The $4 million UNVEIL project is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research as part of its Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-2 investment strategy. The program intends to build national research strength by initiating research collaborations across institutions.

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