Research: Plant Biology

Plants are vital components of the biosphere contributing oxygen and organic compounds to sustain life on earth. Through complex biochemical pathways, plants can monitor environmental resources such as minerals and water, and external signals such as light and temperature, to optimize growth, development, and yield. In addition to perceiving non-living factors such as those listed above, plants also recognize and respond to other living organisms through the production of complex specialized metabolites. Interactions of plants with other organisms can be positive, such as the production of pigments and fragrances by flowers to attract pollinators. In other cases, plants react to herbivores and pathogens by mounting defense responses. Not only can plant-derived specialized metabolites defend plants from attack, many of these compounds have therapeutic properties in the human body and are used as medicines to fight pain, inflammation, infections, and cancer.

Students doing research with faculty can work on intrinsic and extrinsic signaling pathways by studying plant hormones, plant-insect interactions, and plant-virus interactions. They will receive training in many different techniques including those for DNA, RNA and protein extraction, purification, and analysis; electrophoresis; chromatography; mass spectrometry; and microscopy. These techniques are useful for scientists pursuing careers in many areas of basic and applied sciences.