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UNC Charlotte’s Loraine Lab: Answering Fundamental Questions in Plant Biology

September 03, 2011

Answering Fundamental Questions in Plant Biology

In February 2008, Ann Loraine, associate professor in the Department of Bioinformatics and Genomics at UNC-Charlotte, was one of the first faculty to join the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis. In the three years since, she’s seen the campus grow to include eight universities and corporate partners such as General Mills, Monsanto, and Dole Foods.

Loraine“I came to NCRC because of the facilities that were being built. I liked the integration of plant biology, nutrition, and genomics.” Loraine said. “When I heard about what was going on here, I thought this could be a great place to work.”

Loraine’s research team at the NCRC employs techniques from genomics and computer science to investigate basic and applied questions in plant biology. They also develop visualization software. Her team combines the talents of both “wet lab” and “dry lab” researchers, including PhD-level researchers, a research specialist, computer programmer, lab assistant, and students from UNC Charlotte.

Research Projects

One of the UNC Charlotte students Adam Baxter, who is also a Kannapolis Scholars US Department of Agriculture fellow, is working on a project to study genes expressed during berry fruit ripening. Originally funded by a grant from the North Carolina University System General Administration, this project aims to identify blueberry genes that produce anthocyanin and other compounds that provide health benefits for humans.

Loraine’s lab contributes to a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Arabidopsis 2010 Project led by Joe Kieber of UNC Chapel Hill. Along with co-principal investigators Eric Schaller of Dartmouth College and Dennis Mathews of the University of New Hampshire, they study how plant hormones called cytokinins regulate division and growth of plant cells. Loraine’s group integrates data and develops computational models of how cytokinins control plant growth.

Loraine and her lab are studying alternative gene splicing or how genes in plants produce different forms that can help them adapt to changing conditions in the environment. A fourth project is the Pollen Research Coordination Network. Funded by the NSF, the network examines pollen as a model system to study cell biology and different facets of plant biology.

IGB, Visualization Software

To support genomics research, her lab develops the Integrated Genome Browser (IGB), an open source visualization software program that helps scientists explore and understand genomes. Her lab was recently awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue development of IGB over the next five years with collaborators from industry and academia. Previous funding came from the National Science Foundation.

IGB is a software platform that Loraine began working with while at Neomorphic, Inc., a company that spun out of the University of California, Berkeley Drosophila Genome Project. Loraine worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the Drosophila Genome Project after graduating with a PhD in plant molecular biology from Berkeley in 1996. The project sequenced the euchromatic genome of Drosophila melanogaster (the fruit fly), a model research organism used in genetics research. Neomorphic merged with Affymetrix in 2000, and, in 2004, Affymetrix released IGB as the lead product of the open source Genoviz project.

The adaptability of the program is making it increasingly popular with researchers. “There’s a big problem with genomics,” Loraine said. “Even smaller-scale labs can do amazingly sophisticated techniques, but the techniques generate vast amounts of data. Scientists need tools that help them explore and ask questions of their data. The IGB team wants to make the process of discovery easier and faster.”

For more information, visit the Loraine lab website www.transvar.org.

 

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