Cheung and Wu Cap off Productive Spring with NSF Award

Alice Cheung and Hen-Ming Wu, both from biochemistry and molecular biology, have had a productive spring: publication, in March, of one article in Science and another, in May, in Current Biology. Just recently, Cheung and Wu added a National Science Foundation award for $950,000 to their academic-year-end achievements.

Hen-Ming Wu and Alice Cheung
Hen-Ming Wu and Alice Cheung

The NSF award supports Cheung and Wu’s longstanding research into plant reproduction. Their project, “Pollen-stigma interactions: events and players that set off the path to reproductive success,” will run for four years, and is a culmination of their effort to understanding how male-female interactions underlie reproductive success.

Cheung and Wu were recently co-authors on the pair of complimentary papers that appeared this spring. Cheung says she is particularly gratified by the publications because lead authors Chao Li and Qiaohong Duan are former postdocs of hers. Li and Duan have moved on from UMass Amherst to labs of their own at East China Normal University and Shandong Agricultural University, but their publications built from projects and expertise acquired while studying with Cheung and Wu.

Cheung’s new, NSF-supported project extends a foundation that her lab has built on the cell biology of pollen tubes, which are cells that grow in a plant’s female reproductive organ especially to transport sperm to an egg cell. The project also combines more recent studies on several distinct but related mechanisms that control various ways that male-female plants communicate to enable fertilization. The goal of the project is to better understand how these two different regulatory processes ultimately help a plant to achieve fertilization and produce seeds.

The project also has a strong student-training component, including opportunities for undergraduates. Professor Cheung says that the fundamental studies in male-female interactions that her lab carries out are crucial for ensuring the success of the agriculturally important process of seed production.