MSU Plant Resilience Institute Projects

Enhancing drought tolerance through directed manipulation of the growth/defense system. 

The overarching goal of this project is to 1) define how plants perceive and respond to conditions of drought; 2) uncover the mechanisms underpinning how basic physiological processes “key” into drought response activation and signaling; 3) deploy a combination of growth chamber-to-field-based experiments to characterize plant response to drought stress, and 4) deliver a plant that can survive and thrive under conditions of extreme drought exposure. In total, we posit that this project will provide a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms that frame the growth/defense (i.e., survive or thrive) tradeoff.

Central Hypothesis: NDR1 functions in response to drought stress, and in this role, is required for ABA-associated signaling processes. We posit that NDR1 functions as a key hub – a point of convergence – in ABA-associated signaling processes, responsible for balancing growth, defense, and survival. The overarching goal of this proposal is to understand how plants perceive and respond to drought stress and how this response is regulated by additional environmental (external) and developmental (internal) cues. Our preliminary data support a role for NDR1 in regulating the growth/defense/survival response. Over the next three years, we will address the following areas to address critical knowledge gaps in plant stress biology, as well as to test key aspects of our central hypothesis:

  1. Characterize the regulation of the abiotic (drought) signaling processes that require NDR1.
  2. Define the survive/thrive activity of NDR1.
  3. Characterization of a role for NDR1 in four important crop species to define the breadth of environmental factors that require NDR1 function for drought response signaling.

Dissection of resistance and susceptibility to the root rot fungal pathogen Fusarium virguliforme. 

This project is in collaboration with the laboratory of Dr. Marty Chilvers (MSU;

The over-arching goal of this project is to define the molecular-genetic interactions underpinning resistance and susceptibility to the fungal root-rot pathogen Fusarium virguliforme. Our over-arching hypothesis is that F. virguliforme infects its host through manipulation of hormone signaling (i.e., auxin), which in parallel, influences root growth and development. We posit that chemical and architectural features influence pathogen infection and host resistance. In brief, we initiated a 2-pronged approach. First, we have been using soybean-F. virguliforme as a model to interrogate early changes in gene expression during infection. Second, and in parallel, we have used the rotated crop, corn, as an asymptomatic host for this association. Third, we initiated a screen of recombinant inbred bean lines to look for resistance mechanisms; this is to be accomplished using a combination of QTL mapping and genome sequencing.

Lastly, and as a function of growing the project beyond the scope of molecular-genetics and gene function analysis, we wanted to merge a component of a recently published manuscript (2017) from my lab to submit a proposal to USDA-NIFA; this proposal was funded in early 2018. The scope of this work is aimed at utilizing in-lab resources (i.e., genome sequencing information) to develop point-of-contact diagnostics markers for pathogen detection on both soybean and corn. This work is in collaboration with Dave Kramer.