If you are interested in pursuing undergraduate research in my lab, email me: email@example.com
The secretory system is essential to the proper function of all eukaryotic cells. As with all eukaryotes, plants face the difficult task of directing cargo to many different destinations while using a common set of endomembrane compartments. Clearly, a complex and specific vesicle trafficking machinery is required, and not all of what we know about the machinery of eukaryotes like animals and fungi can be applied to plants. Plants do some things the same, but have to do a lot of it differently. Our research involves trying to find some of these different things.
Many of the same processes that occur in land plants also occur in their unicellular ancestors. To take advantage of the morphological simplicity of unicellular plants like Chlamydomonas, my lab has also initiated a genetic screen for genes involved in secretion. In this model organisms we are using insertional mutagenesis to derive populations with mutations that are subsequently screened for ability to secrete an endogenous enzyme activity. Putative mutants are grown, have genomic DNA extracted, and the site of insertion is identified by TAIR-PCR. Eventually, those mutations identified as essential for Chlamydomonas secretion will be examined by identifying the orthologs in land plants, and examining their function in these more complicated organisms.
This is a project that has been pursued by multiple generations of undergraduates, each of whom learn cell and molecular biology techniques like cell culture, PCR, cloning, protein expression, microscopy, bioinformatics and many other useful skills. Students who have worked on the project have gone onto Medical, Dental, and Pharmacy schools, and (of course) graduate school.
My lab also has a long term interest in a specific family of proteins that known to be required for secretion, a class of integral membrane proteins called SNAREs. My lab uses the model plant Arabidopsis, a system with well established cell biological, biochemical and genetic tools that we use to study the functions of SNAREs in the secretory/endocytic pathways. In particular my lab focuses on those SNAREs involved in two processes: 1) cell plate formation and cytokinesis and 2) polarized secretion in non-dividing cells. Both of these processes are part of essential cellular pathways, and are required for plant growth and development. Currently our efforts are focused on studying these processes in pollen.
Cell plate formation is unique to land plants, and is an required step for cytokinesis in these organisms. As a novel vesicle trafficking pathway, it is not surprising that it requires novel types of SNARE proteins that are not found in animals or fungi. My lab is investigating the role of these novel types of SNAREs as well as the role of the Golgi and other endocytic organelles is cell plate formation. Again using cell biological and genetic approaches, we investigate the role of individual SNAREs and particular trafficking pathways to cell plate formation. Since growth and development is ultimately dependent on cell division, understanding the mechanics of this process has implications on almost all aspects of plant life.
I also have an ongoing interest in genomics and phylogenetics, as well as genome annotation and related techniques (collectively called phylogenomics). I use this to identify phylogenetic clades of proteins and then overlay genomic or taxonomic information onto the trees to infer information about when such clades arose, and whether they may represent novel functions or simple gene duplications.