Plants as Model Organisms

Here in the School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS) we are making breakthroughs in understanding the important and fundamental processes at work in plants and their environments from which solutions to global challenges will emerge. Essentially, we are figuring out how plant do what they do and how we can use that knowledge to help them do it better. The following examples illustrate some of the many ways in which SIPS faculty are advancing this goal.

Greater understanding of plant processes and development reveals targets for enhancing agronomic qualities

  • Lailiang Cheng's research group is finding new ways to manipulate the sugar and acid content in apples in ways that enhance fruit quality.
  • Olena Vatamaniuk's research group is identifying proteins involved in metal transport and signaling with potential use in creation of iron fortified foods
  • Li Li's research group is investigating plant genes involved in biosynthesis of pigments like carotenoids, as a means of enhancing nutritional value in crop plants
  • Jim Giovannoni, Carmen Catala and their research groups are characterizing developmental changes associated with ripening, revealing new genetic targets for improving flavor in tomatoes.
  • June Nasrallah's research group focuses on the genetic basis of self-incompatibility in Arabidopsis, understanding of which will allow for more effective use of germplasm when breeding crop plants tailored to particular environments
  • Susheng Gan's research group is focused on regulation of senescence as a strategy for increasing crop yield and minimizing post-harvest loss

Increased plant productivity through manipulation of chloroplasts and photosynthesis

In the perspective piece, “Redesigning photosynthesis to sustainably meet global food and bioenergy demand” (PNAS 2015,112:8529) improving photosynthetic efficiency is promoted as an important strategy for increasing agricultural productivity. Several SIPS faculty are engaged in research that is revealing fundamental insights into chloroplast function and leaf development.

  • Klaus van Wijk’s research group investigates the development and repair of photosynthetic apparatuses in plants using different photosynthetic pathways
  • Maureen Hanson’s research group has successfully re-engineeered chloroplasts of higher plants with high efficiency Rubisco from an alga and is working on transferring additional algal components to allow high efficiency function under normal atmospheric conditions
  • Mike Scanlon's research group investigates the developmental biology of leaves, revealing new strategies for optimizing leaf angles so light is more efficiently captured by the whole plant.
  • David Stern’s research group investigates assembly of RuBisCO, the enzyme that catalyzes the primary chemical reaction by which inorganic carbon enters the biosphere

Advanced imaging technologies provide novel insights into plant development

Several of our researchers are investigating fundamental aspects of plant development and are pioneering new technologies for visualizing these processes.

  • Adrienne Roeder's research group analyzes plant developmental patterning over time by generating computational models from confocal microscope images
    Plant Biology faculty Adrienne Roeder
    Plant Biology faculty Adrienne Roeder
  • Wojtek Pawlowski's research group studies meiotic recombination using genetics, biochemistry and several advanced microscopy methods, such as restorative deconvolution, multiphoton excitation, and structured illumination microscopy.
  • Taryn Bauerle's research group images very fine-scale spatial relationships between competing tree roots in a 3D space using X-ray computed tomography (CT scanning).

New technologies for biomolecular characterization  and computational analysis are transforming our understanding of genome variation, evolution, and regulatory networks

Technological advances in nucleic acid sequencing and proteome characterization coupled with increasing computing power have revolutionized our ability to study genome variation, gene regulation, and distribution of resulting proteome. The majority of SIPS researchers use genome-scale analysis as one of many tools to achieve their research objectives. For some, development and implementation of new tools and analytical strategies is a major focus unto itself.

  • Zhangjun Fei's group has focused on developing computational tools and resources to analyze and integrate large scale “omics” datasets”, which help researchers to understand how genes work together to comprise functioning cells and organisms
  • Lukas Mueller's group coordinates the SOL Genomics Network which provides resources for genome analysis and genomic selection of solanaceous crop plants including tomato, potato, pepper, and eggplant.  
  • Joss Rose's research group is developing new protocols and computational tools to characterize cell wall proteins with particular emphasis on cell wall changes during fruit development and molecular interactions with pathogens