Zhiyong Wang was appointed acting director of Department of Plant Biology in 2018.

Wang’s research aims to understand how plant growth is controlled by environmental and endogenous signals. Being sessile, plants respond environmental changes by altering their growth behavior. As such, plants display high developmental plasticity and their growth is highly sensitive to environmental conditions. Plants have evolved many hormones that function as growth regulators, and growth is also responsive to the availability of nutrients and energy (photosynthates).

To understand how plant cells perceive and transduce various regulatory signals, and how combinations of complex information are processed into growth decisions, such as shoot cell elongation and root growth, by the cellular circuitry, the Wang lab uses a wide range of cutting-edge technologies in proteomics and genomics, as well as traditional genetic and molecular approaches, and both model systems and crops.

The Wang lab has spent years dissecting the signaling pathway of one major class of plant hormones, brassinosteroids, making it one of the best-studied signal transduction pathways in plants. Brassinosteroids play important roles in a wide array of functions, including cell elongation, photomorphogenesis, and reproductive development, with major effects on plant size and biomass accumulation. Brassinosteroids also have impacts on the response to environmental stresses and resistance to pathogens.

In recent years, research by the Wang lab has uncovered a central growth-regulation network that integrates all major signals that control shoot cell elongation, including brassinosteroids, auxin, gibberellin, light, temperature, the circadian clock, sugar, and pathogen signals. Wang believes that this central growth network will be a major target for genetically engineering high-yield crops.

A major current effort of Wang lab is to map the protein networks using proteomic approaches. Both protein-protein interactions and posttranslational modifications are studies at large scale using mass spectrometry in combination with affinity enrichment, proximity labelling, crosslinking, and synthetic protein interactions. The aim is to establish complete protein and gene networks and to engineer the networks to achieve improved traits.

Wang received his B.S. in plant physiology from Lanzhou University, China, his M.S. from the Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and his Ph. D. in molecular, cell and developmental biology at UCLA. For more see http://dpb.carnegiescience.edu/labs/wang-lab

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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

May 16, 2019

The Office of the President has selected two new Carnegie Venture Grants. Peter Driscoll of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism and Sally June Tracy of the Geophysical Laboratory were awarded a venture grant for their proposal Carbon-rich Super-Earths: Constraining Internal Structure from Dynamic Compression Experiments. Plant Biology’s Sue Rhee and Global Ecology’s Joe Berry and Jen Johnson were awarded a Venture Grant for their project Thermo-adaptation of Photosynthesis in Extremophilic Desert Plants.

Carnegie Science Venture Grants ignore conventional boundaries and bring together cross-disciplinary researchers with fresh eyes to explore different questions.

Chlamydomonas
March 21, 2019

Palo Alto, CA—The creation of new library of mutants of the single-celled photosynthetic green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii enabled a Carnegie- and Princeton University-led team of plant scientists to identify more than 300 genes that are potentially required for photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants, algae, and some bacteria convert energy from sunlight into carbohydrates—filling our planet’s atmosphere with oxygen as a byproduct.

Their findings are published this week in Nature Genetics.

Chlamydomonas represents a group of algae that are found around the globe in fresh and saltwater, moist soil, and even snow. They are

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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

Carnegie researchers recently 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 measurement of

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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

Evolutionary geneticist Moises Exposito-Alonso joins the Department of Plant Biology as a staff associate in the summer of 2019. He investigates whether and how plants will evolve to keep pace with climate change by conducting large-scale ecological and genome sequencing experiments. He also develops computational methods to derive fundamental principles of evolution, such as how fast natural populations acquire new mutations and how past climates shaped continental-scale biodiversity patterns. His goal is to use these first principles and computational approaches to forecast evolutionary outcomes of populations under climate change to anticipate potential future

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.