Molecular biologists Alice Cheung and Hen-Ming Wu, biochemistry and molecular biology, recently were awarded a combined $1.35 million from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Integrative and Organismal Systems and Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences to support their continued work in plant male-female interactions, which lead to fertilization and seed production, and in exploring basic mechanisms in plant signal transduction pathways.
In a series of papers published between 2010 and 2015 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature Communications and eLife, the Cheung and Wu group advanced the mechanistic understanding of a plant cell surface regulator called FERONIA receptor kinase, which was once thought to be involved only in reproduction. They showed that in fact it is required to be present at all times and places for plant growth and survival. Their new research will build upon these findings and other work showing that FERONIA receptor kinase plays critical roles in plant growth, reproduction and coping with environmental stresses.
As department head Jennifer Normanly explains, “Besides advancing their own research, their findings also spurred an active international community to explore FERONIA and related regulators in a large variety of model and crop plants and to identify its role in a broad range of processes, in particular responses to biotic and abiotic stresses that have important agricultural implications.”
Because FERONIA is a member of a considerably larger receptor family whose functions were mostly unknown, the researchers say new understanding the mechanisms of how FERONIA functions may open many research avenues, not only in basic plant biology, but in new methods of improving plant growth, especially in plants under stress, and improving seed yields and crop production.
Cheung adds that in addition to their appreciation of NSF’s recognizing the intellectual merits of their work in dissecting fundamental mechanisms, she and Wu are “very gratified” that proposal review panels cited the Cheung-Wu lab’s record of training undergraduates, in particular in the number of undergraduate trainees that have gone on to graduate school.