Understanding how plants grow can lead to improving crops.  Plant scientist Kathryn Barton, who joined Carnegie in 2001, investigates just that: what controls the plant’s body plan, from  the time it’s an embryo to its adult leaves. These processes include how plant parts form different orientations, from top to bottom, and different poles. She looks at regulation by small RNA’s, the function of small so-called Zipper proteins, and how hormone biosynthesis and response controls the plant’s growth.

Despite an enormous variety in leaf shape and arrangement, the basic body plan of plants is about the same: stems and leaves alternate in repeating units. The structure responsible for generating the aboveground portions of the plant, called the shoot apical meristem, is a dynamic but poorly understood cluster of cells located at the very tip of a shoot, at the bud. Barton and colleagues use Arabidopsis plants defective in shoot meristem function to explore the structure and function of this important plant component.

Barton’s meristem studies promise to illuminate one of the most intractable problems in plant developmental biology. And, since rules of plant patterning apply to all plants, her work may lead eventually to the design of useful plants for the future. Barton received her B.S. in molecular biology and her Ph. D. in genetics from the University of Wisconsin—Madison. She was then awarded a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania before returning to the University of Wisconsin as an associate professor of genetics. Learn more at https://dpb.carnegiescience.edu/labs/barton-lab

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July 18, 2019

Palo Alto, CA—Do plant scientists hold the key to saving vulnerable populations in a changing climate? How should plant researchers prepare to deploy their knowledge to maintain food security in the future—as well as to promote renewable energy, sequester carbon pollution from the atmosphere, and even synthesize medicine?

Between 2030 and 2050, climate change will cause about a quarter of a million deaths each year through malnutrition, infectious disease, and extreme heat, according to a 2018 World Health Organization report. Economic losses related to climate change are projected to be several hundred billion dollars a year in the U.S. alone by 2090. And we are

the sea anemone Aiptasia pallida that is hosting the algae, which are responsible for the red fluorescence spots observed in the body of the animal.  Image courtesy of Tingting Xiang.
June 19, 2019

Palo Alto, CA—What factors govern algae’s success as “tenants” of their coral hosts both under optimal conditions and when oceanic temperatures rise? A Victoria University of Wellington-led team of experts that includes Carnegie’s Arthur Grossman investigates this question.

Corals are marine invertebrates that build large exoskeletons from which colorful reefs are constructed. But this reef-building is only possible because of a mutually beneficial relationship between the coral and various species of single-celled algae called dinoflagellates that live inside the cells of coral polyps.

These algae are photosynthetic, which means that like

A teosinte plant growing in a corn field on the Stanford University campus, courtesy of Yongxian Lu.
May 24, 2019

Palo Alto, CA— Determining how one species becomes distinct from another has been a subject of fascination dating back to Charles Darwin. New research led by Carnegie’s Matthew Evans and published in Nature Communications elucidates the mechanism that keeps maize distinct from its ancient ancestor grass, teosinte.

Speciation requires isolation. Sometimes this isolation is facilitated by geography, such as mountains chains or islands that divide two populations and prevent them from interbreeding until they become different species. But in other instances, the barriers separating species are physiological factors that prevent them from successfully mating, or from

Plant cells under microscope. Shutterstock.
May 23, 2019

Palo Alto, CA—Photosynthesis makes our atmosphere oxygen-rich and forms the bedrock of our food supply. But under changing or stressful environmental conditions, the photosynthetic process can become unbalanced, resulting in an excess of highly reactive oxygen molecules that could cause cellular damage if they aren’t neutralized.  

New work in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences led by Carnegie’s Shai Saroussi and Arthur Grossman explores how the photosynthetic algae Chlamydomonas shields itself from this potential danger. Understanding how plants minimize self-inflicted harm in this scenario could help scientists engineer crops with improved

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Carnegie will receive Phase II funding through Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that enables individuals worldwide to test bold ideas to address persistent health and development challenges. Department of Plant Biology Director Wolf Frommer,  with a team of researchers from the International Rice Research Institute, Kansas State University, and Iowa State University, will continue to pursue an innovative global health research project, titled “Transformative Strategy for Controlling Rice Blight.”

Rice bacterial blight is one of the major challenges to food security, and this project aims to

Several years ago, Carnegie researchers  constructed genetically encoded FRET sensors for a variety of important molecules such as glucose and glutamate. The centerpiece of these sensors is a recognition element derived from the superfamily of bacterial binding protiens called periplasmic binding protein (PBPs), proteins that are primary receptors for moving chemicals  for hundreds of different small molecules. PBPs are ideally suited for sensor construction. The scientists fusie individual PBPs with a pair of variants and produced a large set of sensors, e.g. for sugars like maltose, ribose and glucose or for the neurotransmitter glutamate. These sensors have been adopted for

Fresh water constitutes less than 1% of the surface water on earth, yet the importance of this simple molecule to all life forms is immeasurable. Water represents the most vital reagent for chemical reactions occurring in a cell. In plants, water provides the structural support necessary for plant growth. It acts as the carrier for nutrients absorbed from the soil and transported to the shoot. It also provides the chemical components necessary to generate sugar and biomass from light and carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. While the importance of water to plants is clear, an understanding as to how plants perceive water is limited. Most studies have focused on environmental conditions

Today, humanity is increasingly aware of the impact it has on the environment and the difficulties caused when the environment impacts our communities. Environmental change can be particularly harsh when the plants we use for food, fuel, feed and fiber are affected by this change. High salinity is an agricultural contaminant of increasing significance. Not only does this limit the land available for use in agriculture, but in land that has been used for generations, the combination of irrigation and evaporation gradually leads to increasing soil salinity.

The Dinneny lab focuses on understanding how developmental processes such as cell-type specification regulate responses to

Staff Associate Kamena Kostova joined the Department of Embryology in November 2018. She studies ribosomes, the factory-like structures inside cells that produce proteins. Scientists have known about ribosome structure, function, and biogenesis for some time. But, a major unanswered question is how cells monitor the integrity of the ribosome itself. Problems with ribosomes have been associated with diseases including neurodegeneration and cancer. The Kostova lab investigates the fundamental question of how cells respond when their ribosomes break down using mass spectrometry, functional genomics methods, and CRISPR genome editing.

Kostova received a B.S. in Biology from the

Sally June Tracy applies cutting-edge experimental and analytical techniques to understand the fundamental physical behavior of materials at extreme conditions. She uses dynamic compression techniques with high-flux X-ray sources to probe the structural changes and phase transitions in materials at conditions that mimic impacts and the interiors of terrestrial and exoplanets. She is also an expert in nuclear resonant scattering and synchrotron X-ray diffraction. She uses these techniques to understand novel behavior at the electronic level.  Tracy received her Ph.D. from the California Institute of

The Ludington lab investigates complex ecological dynamics from microbial community interactions using the fruit fly  Drosophila melanogaster. The fruit fly gut carries numerous microbial species, which can be cultured in the lab. The goal is to understand the gut ecology and how it relates to host health, among other questions, by taking advantage of the fast time-scale and ease of studying the fruit fly in controlled experiments. 

Nick Konidaris is a staff scientist at the Carnegie Observatories and Instrument Lead for the SDSS-V Local Volume Mapper (LVM). He works on a broad range of new optical instrumentation projects in astronomy and remote sensing. Nick's projects range from experimental to large workhorse facilities. On the experimental side, he recently began working on a new development platform for the 40-inch Swope telescope at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory that will be used to explore and understand the explosive universe.

 Nick and his colleagues at the Department of Global Ecology are leveraging the work on Swope to develop a new airborne spectrograph that will be