Plant Cell Biology, Computational Modeling and Imaging, and Inquiry-based Science Education
I am testing the theory that the endoplasmic reticulum, ER, is the circulatory network of the cell, connecting different organelles to each other, allowing them to share signals, lipids, and proteins.
I am particularly interested in how the cytoskeletal system of plants regulates the movement of the ER network. In interphase, the actinomyosin network drives movement of the ER, just as it drives the movement organelles through the cytoplasm in a process called cytoplasmic streaming, a phenomenon in plants, but not animal cells. Of the seventeen different myosin forms in plants, only six are involved in active cytoplasmic streaming. We are sorting out which of those six guide the different movements of the endoplasmic reticulum.
I am also interested in the nature of the nexus between the ER and other organelles, including the chloroplast, plasma membrane, and Golgi. I have recently shown that by photo-stimulating the nexus between the chloroplast and the ER, the directional flow within the ER can be reversibly altered. This ability to generate very localized ER stress may have application in a wide variety of fields – from finding cures for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s syndrome to developing crops that can better-tolerate physiological heat stress and drought.
Looking at flow in the ER is complicated because the organelle has a very complicated structure. I am collaborating with computational scientists in San Diego, California and Zurich, Switzerland to computationally model how flow can occur in a directional manner in such a complicated web of membrane tubules.
My research and teaching in a variety of imaging fields has motivated me to write a book, called Imaging Life, which will be published in 2012/2013 by Wiley. It is an undergraduate textbook in digital imaging of trans-dimensional events in biology – from photography of Grizzly bears to imaging single molecules with the light microscope.
My teaching is now completely directed to inquiry-based instruction. I have developed a module for PlantingScience.org on the genetics of Arabidopsis thaliana, the first plant to have its genome completely sequenced. I also teach junior and senior-level undergraduate labs that allow students to do authentic science research.