Protecting Plant Surfaces in a Changing Climate: Understanding Synthesis, Form and Function of the Plant Cuticle Using Corn Silks as a Model System

Dr. Marna Yandeau-Nelson
27 Mar 2024
11:00 AM
2630 Memorial Union
  • Rossmann-Manatt Faculty Seminar
  • Committee on Lectures (funded by Student Government)

The Rossmann-Manatt Faculty Seminar

To develop solutions for the agricultural sector to maintain or increase crop yields amidst extreme weather conditions often seen with climate change, it is important to understand mechanisms by which plants combat stresses in the environment. One such mechanism is the plant cuticle, which is a hydrophobic barrier that provides a first line of defense by which plants protect themselves from stresses, including extremes of temperature, drought, frost, and solar irradiation.  Our team takes systems’ biology, classical and quantitative genetic, synthetic biology, and biochemistry approaches to decipher the genetic networks that underlie the deposition of the protective cuticle on the aerial surfaces of plants. We focus our work on the silks of corn, which serve as conduits for pollination and subsequent fertilization of the ovule for kernel production, thereby being critical for crop yield. In fact, we estimate that silks annually facilitate 7 quadrillion successful fertilization events as part of global corn grain production! By understanding the genetic networks responsible for cuticle synthesis and the protective qualities of the cuticle, we lay an important foundation for efforts to develop plants with “designer” cuticles that can protect silks and other plant organs from environmental stress and enable sustained or enhanced production under extreme environmental pressures. This seminar will provide an overview of our efforts to dissect the genetic networks associated with cuticle synthesis using diverse approaches, including 1) systems’ biology strategies, 2) building these pathways from scratch in tissues or organisms that do not naturally make a cuticle,  and 3) as facilitated by the Rossman-Mannatt award, exploring the role of “orphan” genes, which are only present in the genome of a single species, on cuticle biosynthesis and deposition.

Dr. Yandeau-Nelson received a PhD in Genetics from Iowa State University in 2005, and she studied the genetics of starch biosynthesis in maize as a postdoctoral scholar at Penn State University from 2005-2008. As faculty in the Department of Genetics, Development & Cell Biology at Iowa State University, her work focuses on the biosynthetic and regulatory genetic networks of metabolic traits, to increase both the fundamental knowledge of cellular metabolism and to use that knowledge for downstream practical applications (i.e. plant breeding for resistance to stresses and the development of biorenewable chemicals and fuels).  She recently received the M. Rhoades Early-Career Maize Genetics Award from the Maize Genetics Cooperation.

This lecture has been recorded and is available for viewing on the Lectures Available Recordings page.