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Norman B. Best

Norman Best

Research Geneticists (Plants)/Assistant Adjunct Professor
USDA-ARS/Division of Plant Science and Technology

E-mail: (at) usda (dot) gov
Office phone: 573-882-9645

 Plant architecture directly influences plant productivity. The Best Lab is focused on manipulating the current maize architecture to improve productivity and resist yield losses incurred by a changing environment. Plant hormones regulate all aspects of plant architecture. Our research is primarily targeting three hormone pathways: gibberellins, brassinosteroids, and auxin. We have identified that manipulating endogenous levels of these plant growth regulators through both genetic and biochemical approaches results in drastic effects on plant shape and form. While many of these changes in architecture are beneficial to improve plant performance, there are consequences that can cause deleterious effects. We have utilized multiple approaches to identify that it is possible to uncouple the beneficial and deleterious traits that these plant hormones regulate. Through a broad range of careful and targeted approaches, we are manipulating the downstream genetic factors to improve maize architecture. 

The objectives of our current projects are to identify genes that regulate maize development and modify their function to improve plant architecture. The four main aspects of development that we are researching are plant height, leaf angle, tassel branch development, and root architecture. To do this, we are combining forward and reverse genetic approaches, biochemical assays, natural variation studies, transcriptomics, and hormone analysis. Through these approaches we are identifying candidate genes and modifying their function to improve plant architecture.

The Green Revolution improved maize production through the implementation of hybrid varieties while also reducing inputs. We need to double maize yields by 2050 to meet the demands of an increasing global population while also being prepared to endure a changing environment. To meet these demands we need to improve plant architecture. We need to take novel approaches to drastically change the architecture of maize. Reducing plant height, increasing leaf angle, decreasing the size of the tassel, and improving root growth will increase crop yields to feed an ever-growing population. The Next Green Revolution needs to happen now, and it starts with changing the growth and architecture of maize.


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  • 3rd place poster presentation, MU Plant Research Symposium, Columbia, 2020
  • Life Sciences Center Person of the Month, February, Columbia, 2020
  • 2nd place Ph.D./Post-Doc oral presentation, HLA Retreat, West Lafayette, 2016
  • Teaching Academy Graduate Teaching Award, HLA Department, Purdue, 2015
  • 1st place Ph.D./Post-Doc oral presentation, HLA Retreat, West Lafayette, 2015
  • 2nd place Ph.D./Post-Doc poster presentation, HLA Retreat, West Lafayette, 2014
  • 2nd place oral presentation award, ASPB MW Meeting, Chicago, 2013
  • 1st place oral presentation award, PGRSA Conference, Denver, 2012
  • 1st place undergrad poster award, HLA Retreat, West Lafayette, 2011
  • 2nd place undergrad poster award, ASPB MW Meeting, West Lafayette, 2010

Grants and Scholarships
  • USDA-NIFA postdoctoral fellowship, Missouri, 2019-2021
  • Douglas Randall travel award grant, Missouri, 2018 and 2020
  • USDA-NIFA predoctoral fellowship, Purdue, 2017-2019
  • Travel award grant, PGRSA Conference, Denver, 2012
  • Undergrad research grant, School of Agriculture, Purdue, 2010
  • Garden Club of Indiana scholarship, Purdue, 2010
  • Muriel Rumsey Trust scholarship, Purdue, 2009 and 2010

Service and Leadership
  • Interdisciplinary Plant Group (IPG)- Executive Committee Member, Missouri, 2018-2020
  • Interdisciplinary Plant Group (IPG)- Student/Post-Doc Org. Rep., Missouri, 2018-2020
  • Session Chair- IPG Retreat, Missouri, 2019
  • Purdue Graduate Student Government Senator, Purdue, 2013 and 2014
  • Graduate Student Affairs Committee Member, Purdue, 2013 and 2014
  • Parking and Traffic Committee Member, Purdue, 2013 and 2014


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Best NB, Addo-Quaye C, Kim BS, Weil CF, Schulz B, Johal G, Dilkes BP (2021) Mutation of the nuclear pore complex component, aladin1, disrupts asymmetric cell division in Zea mays (maize). G3 11:jkab106.

Matthes MS, Best NB, Robil JM, Malcomber S, Gallavotti A, McSteen P (2019) Auxin EvoDevo: Conservation and diversification of genes regulating auxin biosynthesis, transport, and signaling. Molecular Plant 12:298-320.

Yao H, Skirpan A, Wardell B, Matthes MS, Best NB, McCubbin T, Durbak A, Smith T, Malcomber S, McSteen P (2019) The barren stalk2 gene is required for axillary meristem development in maize. Molecular Plant 12:374-389.

Yang J, Thames S, Best NB, Jiang H, Huang P, Dilkes BP, Eveland EL (2018) Brassinosteroids modulate meristem fate and differentiation of unique inflorescence morphology in Setaria viridis. Plant Cell 30(1):48–66.

Best NB, Johal G, Dilkes BP (2017) Phytohormone inhibitor treatments phenocopy brassinosteroid- gibberellin dwarf mutant interactions in maize. Plant Direct 2:1-18.

Best NB, Hartwig T, Budka JS, Fujioka S, Johal G, Schulz B, Dilkes BP (2016) nana plant2 encodes a maize ortholog of the Arabidopsis brassinosteroid biosynthesis gene DWARF1, identifying developmental interactions between brassinosteroids and gibberellins. Plant Physiology 171(4): 2633–2647.

Best NB, Wang X, Brittsan S, Dean E, Helfers SJ, Homburg R, Mobley ML, Spindler TL, Xie B, Hasegawa PM, Joly RJ, Rhodes D, *Dilkes BP (2016) Sunflower `Sunspot' is hyposensitive to GA3 and has a missense mutation in the DELLA motif of HaDELLA1. JASHS 141(4): 889–894.

Addo-Quaye C, Buescher E, Chaikam V, Best NB, Baxter I, Dilkes BP (2016) Forward genetics by sequencing EMS variation induced inbred lines. G3. g3.116.029660.

Best NB, Hartwig T, Budka JS, Bishop BJ, Brown E, Potluri DP, Cooper BR, Premachandra GS, Johnston CT, Schulz B (2014) Soilless plant growth media influence the efficacy of phytohormones and phytohormone inhibitors. PLoS ONE. 9(12):e107689.

Hartwig T, Corvalan C, Best NB, Budka JS, Zhu JY, Choe S, Schulz B (2012) Propiconazole is a specific and accessible brassinosteroid (BR) biosynthesis inhibitor for Arabidopsis and maize. PLoS ONE 7(5): e36625.

Technical publications and book chapters

Best NB, Hartwig T, Budka JS, Schulz B, Weil C, Dilkes BP (2016) New nana plant1 (na1) allele. Maize Genetics Cooperation Newsletter. Vol. 90.

Best NB, Budka JS, Schulz B, Weil C, Dilkes BP (2014) New EMS-induced allele of terminal ear1 (te1) allele in the B73 background. Maize Genetics Cooperation Newsletter. Vol. 88.


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