In stark contrast to most animals, plants must grow and survive in a single location— some individuals can thrive for thousands of years. We are only beginning to learn how plants solve this incredible challenge. Parts of the answer seem to lie in their extremely efficient mechanisms of environment sensing, signal integration, and cellular regulation.
Plants must harvest CO2, water and 16 essential nutrients from the local environment to build all organic molecules required for sustaining growth. The plant cell membrane plays a central role in this process, by not only controlling which compounds can enter or leave the cell but also sensing the chemical and physical factors of the extracellular environment. Relatively little is understood of how the plant cell membrane is organized and how membrane organization instructs and supports the processes of cell and tissue morphogenesis.
Also different from animal cells, plant cells are surrounded by a rigid cellulosic wall. The cell wall provides protection for each cell and also is the plant's primary load-bearing component—allowing some plants to grow into the largest free-standing biological structures on earth. In exchange for their great benefits, the rigid cell walls constrain cell and tissue development. A central challenge in plant development is to understand how the cell organizes the construction of the cell wall to permit cell and tissue growth.
Communication within and between plant cells relies on direct interactions between proteins. Sue Rhee’s lab, is systematically identifying the protein interactions between membrane proteins and the signaling proteins inside the cell. Zhi-Yong Wang's lab is identifying protein-protein interactions and protein modifications that mediate signaling and gene expression underpining growth regulation.
David W Ehrhardt’s lab investigates the mechanisms of plant cell organization and morphogenesis. The lab has made major advances in visualizing and measuring the dynamic cellular machinery that organizes the cell and builds the cell wall, discovering new mechanisms that contribute to cytoskeletal organization and new functions for the cytoskeleton in organizing the cell membrane.
David W Ehrhardt’s lab is probing the organization of plant cell membranes by expressing and visualizing libraries of fluorescently tagged membrane and membrane-associated proteins.
Zhi Yong Wang’s lab unravels the networks of signal transduction and signal integration in the context of seedling morphogenesis and root growth. The lab investigates how cell-cell and cell-environment signaling control cell growth and pattern tissue development. Their major discoveries include several new signaling components that fill all the gaps in the signaling pathway linking the cell surface receptor of brassinosteroid to the genomic targets of the hormone, a central transcription module that integrates multiple major environmental and endogenous signals that control cell elongation, and a gradient pattern of brassinosteroid that antagonizes auxin in the control of the stem cell dynamics in the root tip.
Arthur Grossman’s lab use green algae and model plants as a fast route to get to the basis of essential nutrient uptake and signaling.