Amber de Neve, 2020-2021
Graduate Program: Plant Biology
Lab: Madelaine Bartlett
Education: University of Massachusetts, Amherst
All the carbon in our bodies originally comes from plants, and 2/3 of that carbon comes specifically from grasses such as maize and wheat. To meet the nutritional needs of a growing population in a warming climate, new innovations in agricultural biotechnology are necessary. My research focuses on grass floral development. While most plants have bisexual flowers with male and female parts, grasses can form unisexual flowers that are just female or male. The molecular pathway that regulates the sexuality of grass flowers is not well understood.
Interestingly, genes that control plant architecture can also change floral sexuality. Our lab discovered an interaction in maize between gt1, an architectural gene, and ra3, a sugar metabolism gene. These genes work together to represses the feminization of unisexual male flowers. Two things I will be focusing on during my PhD are 1) how sugar metabolism controls floral specification through the gt1–ra3 module, and 2) if this interaction is broadly conserved in all grasses with unisexual flowers. By understanding this pathway better, we can use targeted plant breeding methods such as CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing to increase the amount of female fruit-bearing flowers on a plant, increasing crop yield.