B.S., Biology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Ph.D., Cell & Molecular Biology, Stanford University
University of California, Berkeley
Our lab studies plant cell wall dynamics, with the goal of informing efforts to produce sustainable food, materials, and bioenergy from plants. We use in vivo imaging and cell biological, molecular, biochemical, and genetic approaches in the model plants Arabidopsis thaliana and Physcomitrella patens to investigate three biological processes:
De novo cell wall formation
During division, each plant cell rapidly builds a new double-sided cell wall. These new walls are initially structurally and compositionally distinct from existing cell walls, but mature progressively over time. However, many of the details of this maturation process are unknown. Characterizing the molecular events and dynamics of new cell wall formation and maturation and identifying the genes responsible for these processes is critical to understanding the development of plant structure at the cellular, tissue, and organismal levels.
Cell wall modification
Primary plant cell walls are amazing structures that expand along with the cells they encase while withstanding the immense forces generated by turgor pressure. Our lab measures structural and compositional changes in growing cell walls using advanced imaging techniques, focusing on two classes of biopolymers: cellulose, which is the major load-bearing component of the cell wall, and pectins, which help form the matrix within which cellulose is embedded. We have identified and are characterizing a collection of mutants with enhanced cell growth in order to identify new genes that function in cell wall modification.
Cell wall degradation
Genetic and biochemical evidence indicates that plants degrade specific components of their cell walls during cell growth. The extent to which this degradation influences cell wall growth, cell signaling, and intracellular metabolism is not fully understood. Analyzing these degradative processes using cell biological and molecular approaches could enable the engineering of plants with easily degradable cell walls that are nonetheless able to withstand environmental and biotic stresses.