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Sagebrush Innovation

Boise State develops research that positively impacts lives and breaks down traditional barriers so researchers and students can collaborate on big problems.

Discover the complexity of sagebrush

Thanks to break-through research at Boise State, we are learning just how important sagebrush is in estimating how climate change is impacting our ecosystem – both for humans and animals. For the first time ever, Boise State researchers have been able to sequence the sagebrush genome which is 2.3 times larger than the human genome and far more complex.

Interdisciplinary Sagebrush Research

Solving Real Problems

Closed captions provided and a transcript is available at the end of this page.

Groundbreaking Sagebrush Research

Impacting the Region


students from undergraduate to post-doctoral worked on the sagebrush genome


faculty from Boise State researching sagebrush in the West


million acres of sagebrush steppe in the American West

Restoring a Western Icon

Sagebrush is the target of one of the largest restoration seeding efforts in the world. Innovative research taking place at Boise State helps scientists understand the genetic footprint of the plant.

The seeding efforts highlight its importance as a critical component of the ecosystem and will serve to restore its place as an icon of the American West.

Video Transcript

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[Nancy, Glenn, Vice President of Research and Economic Development]: Sagebrush is a plant that occurs in what we call the sagebrush steppe, which is an ecosystem that historically has covered about a third of the United States, primarily in the Western U.S across 14 states. And the sagebrush steppe and sagebrush species itself provide critical habitat for animals, provide critical food for animals during the wintertime. In addition to animals, the sagebrush steppe provides a home for us to use the landscape for recreational purposes, for grazing, indigenous peoples use the sagebrush steppe and call the sagebrush steppe their home. And as well the sagebrush steppe provides critical nutrient and water cycling. So it infiltrates water, it infiltrates nutrients and plants and animals uptake that water and those nutrients. So there’s many uses of sagebrush within the sagebrush steppe. And what is so unfortunate about the sagebrush steppe is that we’ve lost in the last couple of decades almost half of the landscape to disturbance such as megadrought, such as fire, such as human disturbance. And so thinking about restoration of the sagebrush steppe is really important. And it turns out that restoring sagebrush is really difficult, and the reason why it’s so difficult is that it takes a long time to reestablish, and we have such more frequent and intense fires that are part of the fire grass cycle, which is a whole ‘nother topic. With such increase intensity of fires and timing of those fires, the sagebrush really don’t have an opportunity to reestablish. And so the big question is how can we reestablish and restore the sagebrush steppe?


[Nancy] Boise State researchers, including faculty, staff and students, spent a tremendous amount of time on assembling and analyzing the sagebrush genome and essentially mapping the sagebrush genome. And the reason why it’s such an amazing feat is that it’s two and a half times more complex than the human genome. So if you can imagine the amount of time and energy and thought put into this. In addition, we didn’t necessarily have the methods or the tools to decode that genome. And so the researchers basically built these biotechnological tools in order to map the sagebrush genome. I think one of the things that’s really unique about our interdisciplinary approach to research here on campus is the lens in which we approach that. And the lens is that, for example, with the Sagebrush Genome project is that we want to do use-inspired research that’s going to make a difference on the ground, is going to help land managers and local communities, and the sagebrush genome is a great example of that. One of the really unique things about interdisciplinarity research at Boise State is that we think about these problems all the way from the basic research to the applied or use-inspired research. And so in the genome project, the researchers were thinking about how do we map the genome for the purpose of thinking about drought, but how can we incorporate drones and unmanned aerial vehicles to map that drought, and then linking that to chemical analysis and some very basic research about the plasticity of sagebrush leaves, and then mapping that to the decisions that land managers have to make on the ground due to the drought and due to the decline in the sagebrush. And so it’s all linked together, and our researchers are able to make those connections because they have the right people at the table.

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