Cytokinin Signaling and More Productive Rice
Like Hsieh, Ann Loraine, PhD, with the UNC Charlotte Departments of Genetics and Bioinformatics has conducted extensive research in Arabidopsis. As part of a $3.5 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant with co-investigators Joseph Kieber, PhD, professor and associate chair of biology at UNC Chapel Hill, and Eric Schaller, PhD, professor of biological sciences and in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Graduate Program at Dartmouth College, she is applying her expertise in plant biology, bioinformatics and analytical software development to understand the role cytokinins play in the growth and development of rice. Cytokinins are plant hormones that are part of cell growth and differentiation primarily in the roots and shoots.
“We are looking at how cytokinins regulate the number of grains and grain size,” Loraine said commenting on the purpose of the NSF grant. “Ivory Clabaugh, who works as a research technician in my lab, has been working out conditions for growing rice in indoors. She’s found that depending on growth conditions, you might get lots of grains where most of them are almost an empty husk. The process of grains getting larger is called filling and it depends in part on cytokinin levels.”
Loraine’s lab uses a high-throughput sequencing technology called RNA-seq to study gene expression and transcriptomes to identify the genes that are critical to productivity and yield in rice. Transcriptomes are the collection of RNA molecules in cells. RNA is derived from DNA and is responsible for protein synthesis.
“We’re trying to understand the mechanisms underlying how plant cells decide to grow, get bigger and whether or not to divide,” Lorraine said. “That’s a process that cytokinins regulate in combination with other hormones. Cytokinin controls many aspects of plant development. We have to understand these basics of how hormones work in order to breed varieties that have good yield and can withstand environmental stresses.”
The mechanistic understanding can lend itself to applied findings that increase the yield of a plant that the International Rice Research Institute reports feeds “half of the world’s seven billion people.”
Genome Map to Healthier Oats
Oats are another grain that is in demand. Once used more as animal feed, oats have increased as a food product pushed mostly by their popularity in breakfast and snack foods. At the NCRC, General Mills, the producer of Cheerios and one of the largest users and handlers of oats in North America, is working with a global consortium of companies and academic researchers to map the oat genome. The oat is a complex, hexaploid genome, which has proven more difficult to map than other grains. Collaborating with the David H. Research Murdock Institute and the UNC Charlotte Bioinformatics Research Services Division, both at the NCRC, the understanding of the oat genome has advanced to that of other grains. One of General Mills’ goals is to use natural and traditional breeding methods to develop oats with higher and more consistent levels of beta-glucan, which is the soluble fiber that is clinically proven to reduce cholesterol. Lowering cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association, is known to lessen the risk of stroke and heart disease.
Read more about NC A&T’s research to Eating to Prescribing Grains for Better Health, Cancer Prevention.