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Research Summary


Summary of Research:

What regulates the shapes and sizes of organisms is one of the most intriguing unanswered questions of developmental biology.  For plants, this is an especially challenging problem because most plant organs do not arise until after the seed germinates, and organ size and shape is optimized to suit the local environment.  Because they are photosynthetic and fixed in space, plants need to be especially plastic in response to their light environment.  Light influences every developmental transition from seed germination to flowering, having particularly dramatic effects on the morphogenesis of seedlings where it stimulates leaf and chloroplast development, inhibits stem growth, and induces the expression of hundreds of nuclear- and chloroplast-encoded genes.  Light signals do not act autonomously, but must be integrated with seasonal and diurnal changes in temperature, as well as with intrinsic developmental programs to specify correct spatial and temporal regulation of gene expression, organelle development, and cellular differentiation. Our lab studies the mechanisms by which plants respond to changes in their environment, taking advantage of the genomics tools available in the reference plant, Arabidopsis thaliana.

Our efforts probe the mechanisms of developmental plasticity in plants by answering 3 interrelated questions:

A question that arose from our studies is: what are the mechanisms in nature by which plants adapt to varying light environments? For the past 8 years, we have collaborated with Detlef Weigel, surveying hundreds of strains of Arabidopsis collected from around the world for changes in light sensitivity or flowering time. Our studies have shown that biochemical changes in critical photoreceptors, including phyA, phyB, phyC and phyD, may allow plants to grow in different light environments.

For additional details of these projects, go to our Selected Publications link on this site, PubMed, or our research summary at HHMI.