During development, all multicellular organisms face a similar set of challenges: they must create a diverse set of specialized cell types, organize these cells into functional tissues, and maintain pools of stem cells to replenish those tissues throughout their lifetimes. Asymmetric cell division, in which one cell divides to create daughter cells that differ in size, location and cellular components, is an important mechanism for solving these developmental challenges. While all organisms must solve the same problem of generating asymmetries, they do not always come up with the same answer. This project uses the development of stomata (epidermal structures that regulate CO2 and H2O exchange between the plant and atmosphere) as a model to understand how asymmetries are generated in plants. BASL protein, first identified by its role in stomatal development, is a plant-specific regulator of cell and tissue asymmetries, and will be used to identify the general components required for plant asymmetric cell divisions. Stomata not only provide a framework to discover fundamental developmental mechanisms, they function as major components of terrestrial water and carbon cycles. As we witness changes in the global climate, understanding the mechanisms by which plants control the density and pattern of stomata will be essential to produce food or fuel crops that withstand or mitigate production of detrimental climatic conditions.
This CAREER proposal integrates research, teaching and public outreach about genetics and developmental biology. A new course was designed to make students consumers of biological information from a variety of sources, including primary literature and the mainstream media. Then, in partnership with The Tech Museum, students will produce publicly accessible scientific articles. The Tech has programs designed to promote scientific literacy among the adults and children and these programs reach a broad audience including K-8 students in some of the most under-served school districts.