Soil microbiome characterization with DNA hybridization capture, improved methods for purification of plant membrane proteins, and modelling virus-aphid interactions – these are three of the diverse graduate student projects recently funded through the Schmittau-Novak Small Grants Program. Supported by a bequest from the estate of Jean Schmittau in honor of Joseph Novak, Plant Biology Professor Emeritus, the Schmittau-Novak Small Grants Program is designed to provide graduate students in the School of Integrative Plant Science with the opportunity to experience the process of writing and reviewing proposals, and implementing a research plan of their own design.
Proposals for the spring 2018 were due on February 8 and reviewed in late March by a panel drawn from SIPS graduate students r4eceiving Schmittau-Novak funding in the previous round. Nine proposals were selected for funding with awards ranging from $3,030 to $10,000. The program is directed by Dan Buckley and Teresa Pawlowska.
A Novel Approach for Plant Integral Membrane Protein Purification for Structure/Function Studies
Julia Miller is a PhD candidate in the Plant Biology Section. She is studying the structure, function and regulation of plant transporter proteins under the mentorship of Miguel Piñeros. Srinivasan Krishnan is a Postdoctoral Associate at Boyce Thompson Institute, also working with Miguel Piñeros. His research focuses on the biophysical and functional studies of plant membrane proteins. The collaborative project will help develop an improved method of purification of plant membrane proteins for detailed functional studies. Award amount: $10,000.
A quest for a plant virus receptor in aphids at the interface of biology and chemistry
Jenny Wilson is a Plant Pathology PhD student in the lab of Michelle Heck. Her thesis focuses on the molecular interactions involved in the transmission of luteovirids, a group of plant viruses, which are exclusively transmitted by aphids, small sap-sucking insects. Carl Schiltz is a BMCB graduate student in the lab of Josh Chappie. His main research focus is understanding the function, mechanism, and structure of the OLD nucleases, an uncharacterized family of bacterial proteins. Jenny and Carl will be using chemistry, ‘omics, and vector biology to identify and model virus-aphid protein interactions for Potato Leaf Roll Virus. Award amount: $9970.
Contribution of different hormone pathways to development in the moss Physcomitrella patens
Joe Cammarata is a PhD student in the Plant Biology Section, advised by Mike Scanlon and Adrienne Roeder. His thesis research is focused on understanding the genetic underpinnings of how land plant apical meristems evolved to produce upright, leafy shoots. Joe will be characterizing transcriptomic responses to cytokinin and CLE peptides in wild type, clv1 mutants, and cytokinin receptor mutants. Award amount: $8616.
More than minutiae: targeted shotgun sequencing of microbial populations enabled by DNA hybridization capture
Janani Hariharan is a PhD Student in Soil and Crop Sciences with Dan Buckley, and is interested in Streptomyces biogeography and altitudinal patterns, the genomic underpinnings of secondary metabolite production in these bacterial communities, as well as cell-to-cell communication and coordination in soil microbes. Steven Higgins is a postdoctoral researcher, also with Dan Buckley. His present research integrates high-throughput sequencing and cultivation-dependent approaches to study the evolution, ecology, and physiology of soil-dwelling Streptomyces. Janini and Steven will be using target DNA enrichment by DNA hybridization capture (DHC) to sequence, identify secondary metabolite gene clusters, and assess population structure for soil Streptomyces. Award amount: $5000.
Transcriptional profiling of nectary guide diversity and petal pigmentation in wild populations of the highly-polymorphic lily, Calochortus venustus
Adriana Hernandez is a PhD student in the Specht lab in Plant Biology. Her research focuses on the genetic networks that regulate floral development and diversity. She is applying comparative phylogenetic methods to tease apart floral adaptation and the evolution of novel traits. Her award will support analysis of comparative gene expression between phenotypes to relate genes to function and variation in floral pigmentation. Award amount: $4841.
Impact of drought on soil microbial communities in a forest subject to rain exclusion
Juana Muñoz Ucros is a PhD candidate in Horticulture where she works on root microbiomes, with a particular focus on understanding the interactions between plant roots and soil microbes that lead to distinct rhizosphere microbial communities. This award will fund research on the impact of drought in a forest near Munich, Germany with the goal of understanding how plant host identity, neighbor identity, and drought come together to determine the microbial community that assembles in the soil. Award amount: $4908.
Investigation of the mechanism through which a MYB domain transcription factor regulates robust organ initiation
Mingyuan Zhu is a Plant Biology PhD candidate studying organ size uniformity in Adrienne Roeder’s lab. His thesis work identified a novel transcription factor, which regulates the robustness of Arabidopsis sepal size. This award will support his work to further identify genes and pathways important for ensuring organ size consistency. Award amount: $4769
Evaluation of the effect of phenolic root exudates on soil organic matter decomposition in a forest soil
Marie Zwetsloot is a PhD student advised Taryn Bauerle in the Horticulture Section. Her research is broadly focused on plant-soil interactions in the context of global change, specifically how plant phenolic compounds, a less well-studied group of root exudates, influence rhizosphere dynamics and soil carbon storage. She will be studying the effect of phenolic root exudates on soil organic matter decomposition with 13C-labeled phenolic compounds and glucose to determine whether the CO2 respired comes from the soil or a root exudate. Award amount: $4341
Evaluating disease in novel perennial grain crops
Mike Fulcher is a PhD candidate under the mentorship of Gary Bergstrom in Plant Pathology and Plant -Microbe Biology, studying the biology of Fusarium graminearum, the fungal pathogen that causes scab in small grains. Eugene Law is a PhD candidate working with Toni Di Tommaso and Matt Ryan in Soil and Crop Sciences on multiple projects related to perennial grain cropping systems in New York State. This award will support Mike and Eugene’s research on the impact of pathogens on ‘Kernza’, an intermediate wheatgrass cultivar, and on the perennial cereal rye cultivar ‘ACE-1’.