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

Scientific Area: 

Explore Carnegie Science

Senna tora photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
November 24, 2020

Palo Alto, CA— Anthraquinones are a class of naturally occurring compounds prized for their medicinal properties, as well as for other applications, including ecologically friendly dyes. Despite wide interest, the mechanism by which plants produce them has remained shrouded in mystery until now.

New work from an international team of scientists including Carnegie’s Sue Rhee reveals a gene responsible for anthraquinone synthesis in plants.  Their findings could help scientists cultivate a plant-based mechanism for harvesting these useful compounds in bulk quantities.

“Senna tora is a legume with anthraquinone-based medicinal properties that have long

PolyP courtesy of Arthur Grossman and Emanuel Sanz-Luque
October 15, 2020

Palo Alto, CA— In a changing climate, understanding how organisms respond to stress conditions is increasingly important. New work led by Carnegie’s Arthur Grossman and Emanuel Sanz-Luque could enable scientists to engineer the metabolism of organisms to be more resilient and productive in a range of environments.

Their research focuses on polyphosphate, an energy-rich polymer of tens to hundreds phosphate groups which is conserved in all kingdoms of life and is integral to many cellular activities, including an organism’s ability to respond to changing environmental conditions.

“The ways in which polyphosphate synthesis and mobilization can be

Moises Exposito-Alonso
October 6, 2020

Palo Alto, CA— Carnegie’s Moises Exposito-Alonso has been selected for a National Institutes of Health Director’s Early Independence Award, which recognizes “outstanding junior scientists” for their “intellect, scientific creativity, drive, and maturity.”

The honor is part of the NIH’s High-Risk, High-Reward Program, designed to fund highly innovative, potentially transformative biomedical and behavioral research at all career stages. The awardees from all four of the program’s categories are recognized for their trailblazing abilities in a research area that falls under the agency’s mission.

“The

Pennycress
August 3, 2020

Palo Alto, CA— Carnegie’s Sue Rhee and Moises Exposito-Alonso are leading members of an initiative to identify genes related to stress tolerance in the mustard plant field pennycress. Theirs was one of seven biofuel research projects awarded a total of $68 million over five years by the Department of Energy. 

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humankind and scientists from a wide variety of fields are applying their expertise to help understand and mitigate its effects. This includes plant scientists, whose work can help maintain food security in a warming climate, sequester carbon pollution from the atmosphere, and develop renewable energy

No content in this section.

Revolutionary progress in understanding plant biology is being driven through advances in DNA sequencing technology. Carnegie plant scientists have played a key role in the sequencing and genome annotation efforts of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and the soil alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Now that many genomes from algae to mosses and trees are publicly available, this information can be mined using bioinformatics to build models to understand gene function and ultimately for designing plants for a wide spectrum of applications.

 Carnegie researchers have pioneered a genome-wide gene association network Aranet that can assign functions

Johanna Teske became the first new staff member to join Carnegie’s newly named Earth and Planets Laboratory (EPL) in Washington, D.C., on September 1, 2020. She has been a NASA Hubble Fellow at the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, CA, since 2018. From 2014 to 2017 she was the Carnegie Origins Postdoctoral Fellow—a joint position between Carnegie’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (now part of EPL) and the Carnegie Observatories.

Teske is interested in the diversity in exoplanet compositions and the origins of that diversity. She uses observations to estimate exoplanet interior and atmospheric compositions, and the chemical environments of their formation

Phillip Cleves’ Ph.D. research was on determining the genetic changes that drive morphological evolution. He used the emerging model organism, the stickleback fish, to map genetic changes that control skeletal evolution. Using new genetic mapping and reverse genetic tools developed during his Ph.D., Cleves identified regulatory changes in a protein called bone morphogenetic protein 6 that were responsible for an evolved increase in tooth number in stickleback. This work illustrated how molecular changes can generate morphological novelty in vertebrates.

Cleves returned to his passion for coral research in his postdoctoral work in John Pringles’ lab at Stanford

Brittany Belin joined the Department of Embryology staff in August 2020. Her Ph.D. research involved developing new tools for in vivo imaging of actin in cell nuclei. Actin is a major structural element in eukaryotic cells—cells with a nucleus and organelles —forming contractile polymers that drive muscle contraction, the migration of immune cells to  infection sites, and the movement of signals from one part of a cell to another. Using the tools developed in her Ph.D., Belin discovered a new role for actin in aiding the repair of DNA breaks in human cells caused by carcinogens, UV light, and other mutagens.

Belin changed course for her postdoctoral work, in

Evolutionary geneticist Moises Exposito-Alonso joined the Department of Plant Biology as a staff associate in September 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