Our research program focuses on the molecular physiology of plant mineral nutrition with a particular emphasis on plant responses to abiotic stresses in the soil. There are four major projects currently underway:
1. How do crop plants tolerate the abiotic stresses on acid soils, which comprise up to 50% of the world’s arable lands? This research involves identifying genes and the associated physiological mechanisms that confer tolerance to a primary stress on acid soils, aluminum (Al) toxicity. We have cloned or are in the process of identifying Al tolerance genes in the cereal crops sorghum, maize and rice, and are studying how these genes function and are regulated. We are also interested in plant tolerance to the other primary stress on acid soils, phosphorous deficiency, with a focus on the role of root architecture in this trait (see below).
2. The phytoremediation of heavy metal contaminated soils, primarily from the perspective of elucidating fundamental mechanisms of heavy metal transport, tolerance and accumulation. This research focuses on the heavy metal (Zn and Cd) hyperaccumulator, Thlaspi caerulescens, as a model plant system for studying heavy metal accumulation in plants.
3. Novel tools for imaging the entire root system of crop plant species in 2- and 3-dimensions, and the development of quantitative descriptors for root architecture traits, in order to facilitate the genetic mapping of different components of root architecture. We are particularly interested in how root architecture facilitates the uptake of sparingly available nutrients, with a focus on P acquisition on acid soils and water uptake under drought.
4. Research on fundamental aspects of plant mineral nutrient transport with emphasis on improving the accumulation and the availability of Fe in cereal seeds.