Receptor Kinase-activated Signal Transduction and MicroRNA-mediated Auxin Signaling in Cell Differentiation
Plants and animals basically produce two types of cells, i.e. somatic and reproductive cells, in their life cycles. A longstanding question is how somatic and reproductive cells differentiate during sexual reproduction. Research in our laboratory aims at elucidating the molecular mechanisms by which receptor kinase-activated signal transduction and microRNA-mediated auxin signaling control cell fate determination in plant sexual reproduction using molecular genetic, cell biological, biochemical, biophysical, genomic, and proteomic approaches.
Anther, the male part of a flower, is essential to plants for production of offspring; it is also crucial in agriculture for maintaining crop quality and yield. The anther produces reproductive microsporocytes (pollen mother cells) which give rise to pollen (male gametophytes), and the surrounding somatic cells that support normal pollen development. We found that the EXCESS MICROSPOROCYTES1 (EMS1) receptor kinase plays a central role in somatic and reproductive cell fate determination in early anther development. Over the past decade, we have identified several major signaling components in the EMS1 signal transduction pathway, including the small protein ligand TPD1, the potential co-receptor SERK1/2, and a downstream player, βCA (β-Carbonic anhydrase). Our laboratory is focusing on dissecting the molecular basis and functions of receptor kinase-mediated signal transduction pathways in somatic and reproductive cell differentiation using anther as our system.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs), found in both plants and animals, are small (~21 nucleotides) non-coding RNAs. MiRNAs have emerged as crucial regulators of gene expression. Recent studies suggest that miRNAs are involved in signaling networks to ensure the precise control of many biological processes, ranging from cell proliferation, differentiation, death, development to stress responses. The second focus of our research is to identify the molecular mechanisms by which miR160 and its target genes ARF10, 16, and 17 coordinate the auxin signaling to regulate megaspore mother cell differentiation during ovule development in the model species Arabidopsis, and early fruit development in the important fruit crop, tomato.
Flower Development in Crops Under Normal and Stress Conditions
Flower quality determines the yield of crops. Our laboratory is currently identifying genes essential for flower development in sorghum using genomic tools. We are also studying gene networks important for strawberry flower development under the heat stress. Male sterility is widely exploited for hybrid breeding, to prevent gene flow, and to increase plant biomass. We are developing new hybrid breeding systems and optimizing our method for creating bisexually sterile plants (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mf2-OgrbUbY).
Our laboratory provides various research and education opportunities for K-12, undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral scientists, as well as visiting students and scholars. We welcome inquiries about positions at different levels.