Intelligence gathering in the plant kingdom: How Plants Perceive and Integrate Noisy Environmental Signals into a Coherent Stress Response
In both natural and agricultural ecosystems plants are subjected to wide array of stresses. While the long term effects of these stresses are very different, the short term effects are generally characterized by localized changes in the plasma membrane and disruption of normal cellular functions. In order to determine if plants are able to perceive local cellular changes as early stress signals, our lab initiated a series of experiments using mechanical wounding of the model plant Arabidopsis. Our lab first identified genes that were induced five minutes after wounding and then analyzed the promoters (upstream regulatory region) of those genes. The promoter analysis identified a novel regulatory element, subsequently named the Rapid Stress Response Element (RSRE). Further experiments demonstrated that the RSRE is sufficient to confer a rapid responsive to a variety of stresses, indicating its key role in the plant early stress response system. My research goal is to identify the signals and molecular machinery involved in activating the RSRE following stress. Using pharmacological and genetic approaches, I have determined that calcium and reactive oxygen species (ROS) are key signals in the activation of the RSRE. These findings, coupled with my remaining work, will provide targets for the engineering of plants resistant to diverse stresses. The development of such plants will help ensure food security by enabling increased production on existing farmland, thereby meeting the needs of a growing population while protecting natural habitat.