How Molecular Motions Affect Plant Growth

The molecular mechanisms and motions in plants ultimately shape the organism, but how? Linda K. Nicholson, Molecular Biology and Genetics, is studying a key part of the molecular circuitry that governs root development, addressing a major gap in the understanding of how dynamic motions in the molecular world can influence the ultimate shape of a living organism. In rice, a specific signal-responsive molecular circuit controls the formation of lateral roots that branch off of the main vertical root. Nicholson and her lab investigate relationships between the initiation of this lateral root formation and the rate of a specific prolyl cis-trans molecular switch that regulates the timing of this circuit. They will link this molecular switch and its rate to the development of the mature plant.

The project’s specific goals are to tune the molecular switching rate, using mutated forms of a particular regulatory enzyme in the plant; measure changes in rate using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy; and quantify the resulting changes in circuit dynamics in single cells using confocal fluorescence microscopy. The researchers will then observe corresponding changes in phenotype in the whole organism. The results of these experiments will be used to establish a mathematical model for prediction of the effects of cis-trans switching rate on cellular dynamics, with impact on phenotype. The potentially transformative aspect of the project is that if successful, it will integrate knowledge across the scales—from motions of individual bonds to the dynamics of a molecular circuit that regulates gene transcription in a single cell to a well-defined phenotype in the intact plant.

While training graduate and undergraduate students, the research will also be translated into four learning modules that will be disseminated to over 185,000 young students through 4-H chapters across New York State.

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$720 Thousand spanning 4 years

Sponsored by

Other Research Sponsored by National Science Foundation