Plant to Planet

Plants are key to life on our planet. Plants are not only the predominant life form on Earth, they are also the major producers of atmospheric oxygen (3x 1011 tons/year) and consumers of atmospheric CO2. Plants filter our water (e.g. over the tropics, twice the water content of the atmosphere is cycled through stomata each year). Plants are widely distributed and are adapted to an extreme spectrum of environmental conditions, from algae and seagrass living in the salty oceans to algae surviving in the harsh conditions above 5000 meters in the Himalaya. Plants are found in the arctic circle and seeds germinate in deserts after years of dormancy as soon as water becomes available. While most animals are motile and can move to new locations to acclimate to a changing environment, most plants will live their lives at a single location. This adaptation has resulted in an extraordinary ability to acclimate to changing environments. For example trees in Siberia experience exceptionally low temperatures during winter. How is the survival of trees for decades possible in such conditions? Perhaps even more surprising is how plants can survive for many years in one spot while acquiring the right amounts of all mineral nutrients from the soil, a seeming conundrum since acquisition of either too little or too much of a given nutrient will cause damage and eventually death. This becomes a special mystery if we consider that some plants, such as Pinus longaeva survive for up to 5000 years at the site of ‘birth’. How do they manage to mine the soil in their local environment so effectively over such a long life?

Several groups in our department study the molecular basis of these acclimation and adaptation processes.
Devaki Bhaya’s lab & Arthur Grossman’s lab study the adaptation, acclimation and evolutionary mechanisms in microbial mats or biofilms in the extreme environment of hot springs
Winslow Briggs’ lab: Wild fires present a danger to life, but can also trigger new life. Seeds of some species are stored in the soil, waiting for fire as a cue to germinate. The Briggs lab is investigating the signals that fires send to plants and the mechanisms by which plants perceive these signals.
Sue Rhee’s lab: Drought and heat are two of the most devastating conditions for agriculture. The Rhee lab is applying computational technologies for gene discovery to identify genes and gene networks that are used to sense and respond to drought and heat.
José Dinneny's lab: Water and salinity are two of the most important environmental signals affecting the productivity of agriculture today.  The Dinneny lab is utilizing a developmental approach and genomic technologies to understand how plant roots respond to these signals at the cell-type specific level.