The future of farming could include better ways for people to monitor what crop plants need.

That’s one of the goals of a new $25 million research center dubbed CROPPS (for Center for Research on Programmable Plant Systems) focused on the new field of digital biology. The National Science Foundation has funded the center for five years, during which time researchers at Cornell University (where the center is based), the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign and the University of Arizona will use a multidisciplinary approach to develop tools that will allow researchers to receive information from plants that they can use to understand the plant and its current surroundings.

Those findings will "help us breed plants that can respond more appropriately to novel and highly variable environments in which they did not evolve," Cornell professor Susan McCouch, the lead investigator on the project, said in a story posted on the university website.

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NSF announced this and five other new science and technology centers this month. In addition to CROPPS, this funding cycle supported the Science and Technologies for Phosphorus Sustainability (STEPS) Center, headquartered at North Carolina State University with collaborators at eight other schools. That center aims to reduce point and non-point phosphorus loss and ultimately decrease dependence on mined phosphorus.

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