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Plant Biology Graduate Students

Graduate student Sanhita ChakrabortySanhita Chakraborty

Preston Lab
sanhita.chakraborty@uvm.edu

Profile

I am from Kolkata, India. I received my Masters in Botany from the University of Calcutta, with specialization in Plant Genetics and Genomics. I have an active interest in music and reading. Recently, I have also started exploring my inchoate cooking skills in my spare time!

Research Description

I joined the Plant Biology graduate program at UVM in the fall of 2012, with a special interest in plant development. I am curious to learn how spatial and temporal regulation of gene expression govern plant architecture. During my first rotation in Harris lab, I briefly studied systemic effect of salt stress on nodulation in the model legume Medicago truncatula. Currently, I am looking at candidate genes involved in petal fusion in Lactuca sativa in Preston lab as my second rotation project.

Graduate student Parna Ghosh.Parna Ghosh

Harris Lab
parna.ghosh@uvm.edu

Profile

Parna is a Master’s student in Jeanne Harris’s lab. She completed her undergraduate work at the University of Calcutta, India. She joined the Cell and Molecular Biology Program at UVM with a special interest in genetics and cell signaling. She loves the outdoors and enjoys cooking as well.

Research Description


Role of Heme Oxygenase in LATD/NIP-regulated ROS homeostasis and during nodule senescence in Medicago truncatula

Heme Oxygenase (HO) is an enzyme universally found in animals, plants and microbes. In plants, the role of heme oxygenase in the synthesis of the phytochrome chromophore is well recognized and has been extensively studied; however its role in regulating reactive oxygen species (ROS) in plants is just beginning to be explored, particularly in legumes. Legumes interact with Rhizobium bacteria to form symbiotic nitrogen fixing nodules. ROS plays an important role in the development of roots as well as nodules.

In the model legume Medicago truncatula, extracellular ROS in the root is regulated by the LATD/NIP gene. The heme oxygenase gene in M. truncatula is called GIRAFFE, we have a mutation that deletes the entire coding sequence. I am currently testing the role of M. truncatula GIRAFFE HO in regulating expression of LATD/NIP-regulated ROS genes. I found that in roots, the wild-type function of GIRAFFE is to upregulate expression of RBOHA, that functions in the generation of superoxide (an ROS). The effect of GIRAFFE on RBOHA is opposite to the effect of LATD/NIP, which is required to downregulate RBOHA expression in roots. My results show that LATD/NIP does not regulate GIRAFFE expression. I am investigating the role of GIRAFFE in the regulation of other LATD/NIP-regulated ROS genes.

Gene expression studies have revealed that at the time of senescence of M. truncatula nodules (structures in legume roots that fix nitrogen), the expression of heme oxygenase is the highest amongst all kinds of tissue. I am looking into how the loss of GIRAFFE HO function can alter the process of nodule senescence, by looking at ROS accumulation and gene expression studies of ROS-related genes and senescent markers.

Graduate student Suryatapa JhaSuryatapa G. Jha

Tierney Lab
suryatapa.jha@uvm.edu

Profile

My friendship with plants began when I was in high school and my mother gave me the responsibility of tending to her terrace garden. Since then, my love for plants has only increased and I gradually became more interested in how they function.

I received my M.Sc. in Botany from Presidency College, Kolkata, India in 2006. In 2012, I joined UVM Plant Biology as a graduate (PhD) student with an interest in answering questions of plant development using tools of genetics and molecular biology.

When not working, I enjoy reading, gardening and cooking.

Research Description

I am currently working in Tierney lab, studying VPS26c, a retromer subunit which plays a role in endosomal trafficking pathways. I am working to look at the expression profile of VPS26c gene in Arabidopsis, its expression in cell types and the root hair phenotypes in vps26c mutant alleles. In future, I would like to work on characterization of the protein and explain the interplay of this protein in the tip growth of Arabidopsis.

In my first year here at UVM, I also worked in Harris lab on my second rotation project studying how the nodulation in Medicago truncatula is affected by the two opposing factors, red light and high concentrations of nitrate.

During my first rotation in Preston lab, I worked towards functionally characterizing Arabidopsis Soc-1 like genes, and their evolution in Petunia flowering time pathways.

Graduate student Meghan McKeown.Meghan McKeown

Preston Lab
meghan.mckeown@uvm.edu

Profile

I grew up in Seattle, Washington and have always had an immense love for the outdoors and any activity that could bring me outside. I really enjoy skiing, snowboarding, biking, hiking, climbing and playing soccer. When I am not doing lab work at the University I am usually exploring the Green Mountains of Vermont or Adirondacks of New York by bicycle, ski or foot.

Research Description

I received my BA in Biology in 2011 from Carroll College in Helena, Montana, where I had previously done two years of undergraduate research focused on the evolution of West Nile virus. I am currently a PhD student in Jill Preston’s lab where I study the evolution of the vernalization response and gene network in the Pooids. I am using gene trees to trace the evolutionary history of the genes involved in this network. I am interested in learning how the genes were incorporated into the network and how many times the response has evolved in this group.

Graduate student Kattia Palacio Lopez.Kattia Palacio Lopez

Molofsky Lab
kattia.palacio-lopez@uvm.edu

Profile

I am from Bucaramanga, Colombia, and I have a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Universidad Industrial de Santander, Colombia. After graduating in 2007, I moved to Concepción, Chile, where I got my M.S. in 2010. In 2012, I arrived to Burlington, Vermont for my Ph.D. in Dr. Molofsky’s lab. In my free time, I enjoy watching movies, meeting friends, and hiking during the summer.

Research Description

I have worked examining phenotypic plasticity in plants as a fundamental strategy to cope with environmental heterogeneity as well as an explanation for interspecific differences in their distribution range. Moreover, I have been studying the pattern and magnitude of covariation among a set of traits (phenotypic integration) and the role of phenotypic plasticity in the success of invasion by alien plant species over the native ones, where I am using meta-analysis approaches. Currently, I am working in a meta-analysis about phenotypic plasticity and local adaptation in plants.

Selected Publications

Palacio-López, K., Gianoli, E. 2011. Invasive plants do not display greater phenotypic plasticity than their native or non-invasive counterparts: a meta-analysis. Oikos. 120: 1393-1401.

Gianoli, E. Palacio-López, K. 2009. Phenotypic integration may constrain phenotypic plasticity in plants. Oikos. 118: 1924-1928.

Palacio-López, K., Rodríguez, N. 2008. Plasticidad fenotípica en Lippia alba (Verbenaceae) en respuesta a la disponibilidad hídrica en dos ambientes lumínicos (Phenotypic plasticity in Lippia alba (Verbenaceae) in response to water availability in two light environments). Acta Biológica Colombiana. 12: 187-198.

Graduate student Nikisha PatelNikisha Patel

Molofsky Lab
nikisha.patel@uvm.edu

Profile

I studied Biological Sciences at the University of Connecticut where I received my B.S in 2012. My research interests as an undergraduate included plant reproductive biology, with a focus on island endemics.

Research Description

I'm currently focused on studying polyploidy in Phalaris, and its implications for ecology.

Graduate student Giovanna Sassi.Giovanna Sassi

Harris Lab
giovanna.sassi@uvm.edu

Profile

As a young adult (a long long time ago), I discovered two strengths that have fueled my continued professional growth: teaching science and hands-on inquiry using molecular technology. Since 1998, I have facilitated science learning in a multitude of roles including as a bioengineering camp counselor for Mohawk, Cree and Inuit adolescents at Concordia University, a national science outreach program coordinator at McGill University, undergraduate/graduate teaching assistant for a dozen courses encompassing Intro Biology, auto-tutorial Biology, Cell & Genetics, Plant Pathology and Biochemistry and most recently, as an adjunct faculty member for Forensic Science at Champlain College, VT. Along with my young family, I reside within UVM’s GreenHouse Residential Learning Community dedicated to sustainable living where I interact with over 180 undergraduates through organic gardening, composting, canoeing, cooking and mentor a guild I initiated in 2008 named MASH (Mushroom and Spore Hunters) dedicated to locally harvesting and growing mushrooms. Upon degree completion, I envision extending my passion for teaching science and technology to undergraduates or professionals by developing hands-on skills or laboratory-based courses as a full-time instructor/coordinator perhaps within a residential learning community context.

Research Description

My dissertation research centers on the regulation of plant root growth in response to the phyto-hormone abscisic acid (ABA) and glucose signals of the model legume Medicago truncatula. My approach at teasing out key signaling components of these pathways has been two pronged: first using forward-genetics, I characterized 10 candidate mutants isolated from an ABA-insensitivity germination screen for root architecture, nodulation and early seedling phenotypes with ABA or glucose with plans underway to isolate genes of interest via positional cloning. Second (reverse-genetics approach), I have embarked on a diverse set of functional assays for a few M. truncatula candidate transcription factors uncovered by a fellow graduate student to be differentially expressed in the known ABA root-meristem defective mutant (and our lab’s pet), latd with the goal of understanding the role of these transcription factors in root organ development and meristem maintenance.

Selected Publications

UVM Students inspire through actions big and small. Burlington Free Press, January 31, 2010. http://www.uvm.edu/cals/pdfs/publications/Jan10.GSassiGreenHouse.pdf

Zhou, F.S., Mosher, S., Tian, M.Y., Sassi, G., Parker, J. and Klessig, D.F. 2008. The Arabidopsis gain-of-function mutant ssi4 requires RAR1 and SGT1b differentially for defense activation and morphological alterations. Mol Plant Microbe In 21: 40-49

Graduate student Weston Testo.Weston Testo

Barrington Lab
weston.testo@uvm.edu

Profile

Growing up on a farm in rural Upstate New York, I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time exploring the fields and forests nearby. From a young age, I have been interested in understanding why plant species grow where they do and how their habitat shapes their appearance and biology. It is that curiosity which keeps leading me into the forest, looking for new experiences.

I received my B.A. from Colgate University in 2012, where I was a biology major and writing minor. While there, I studied under Dr. James Watkins, who introduced me to the wonderful world of fern biology! We worked extensively in Costa Rica on projects investigating fern ecology and physiology and also studied the biology of a threatened fern from eastern North America. We have become good friends and continue to collaborate on numerous exciting projects.

When I am not in the lab or looking at plants in the herbarium, I enjoy exploring the outdoors as well as cooking and reading a good book.

Research Description

I am a PhD student in David Barrington's lab, where I am studying the diversification of Huperzia, a large genus of lycophytes which are extremely diverse in Central America and the Andes. In addition to elucidating the evolutionary relationships of the Neotropical species, I am interested in understanding the morphological and physiological adaptations that have allowed these plants to succeed in a wide variety of habitats. I am broadly interested in fern and lycophyte ecology and evolution, and am also examining the biology of hybrid and polyploid ferns as well as the demography and ecology of several unusual fern and lycophyte species.

Graduate student Chang Zhang.Chang Zhang

Harris Lab
chang.zhang@uvm.edu

Profile

I'm a Ph.D. student in Dr. Harris's lab. I'm from Tianjin, China.

Research Description

My research focuses on abscisic acid (ABA) and the LATD gene signaling pathway and how this pathway regulates plant growth and development. The Lateral-organ-Defective (LATD) gene was previously identified in the Harris lab, and it has been shown that the LATD gene plays an important role in regulating root meristem function and development. ABA has been shown to rescue latd mutant root defects. On the other hand, reactive oxygen species (ROS) regulate plant growth and development. As a result, I'm interested in whether and how ROS play a role in the ABA/LATD signaling pathway. To figure out other components in the ABA/LATD signaling pathway, I'm also looking for the transcription factors (TFs) as regulatory components through TF profiling.

Graduate student Yucan Zhang.Yucan Zhang

Harris Lab
yucan.zhang@uvm.edu

Profile

I am a Ph.D. student working with Dr. Jeanne Harris. I got my Bachelor's degree in Biotechnology from Shandong Normal University in China in 2006, and began my graduate study at UVM in 2007. I joined the Harris lab after my second rotation.

Research Description

I am interested in how plants adapt to environmental changes. The environmental input signals greatly affect the plant architecture which can be seen as the outputs. The genetic components involved in this transition are still largely unknown. My research is about how different wavelengths of light affect nodulation and lateral root formation on legume plants. This study will tie the environmental signal inputs and plant architecture outputs together through some key players, for example, plant hormones.

Graduate student Prince Kudjoe Zogli.Prince Kudjoe Zogli

Delaney Lab
prince.zogli@uvm.edu

Profile

Prince studied and received a Bachelor in Crop Science in the University of Ghana (UG) in 2006. He was accepted into the Plant Biology PhD program in 2010. He is interested in understanding the mechanisms of plant defense response to pathogenic attack at the molecular level. Prince enjoys playing and watching soccer.

Research Description


Investigating the function of SON1-Interacting Factor-1 (SIF1) gene in planta

We are interested in understanding the role of Arabidopsis SIF1-SON1 protein interaction in plant defense.

The Arabidopsis thaliana SON1 gene encodes an F-box protein, which regulates Resistance to the oomycete pathogen Hyaloperonospora arabidopsidis and the bacterial pathogen, Pseudomonas syringae pv tomato, independent of the systemic acquired resistance (SAR) pathway. To study and understand the SON1 regulated plant defense pathway, we used the Yeast-two hybrid (Y2H) technique to screen the Arabidopsis cDNA library for proteins that may interact with SON1 protein. We found that SON1 interacts with two Arabidopsis genes, SIF1 and PetC. SIF1 is of interest to us because SIF1 and its paralogous gene SIF2 are highly conserved and restricted to the plant kingdom. Since SIF1 and SIF2 homologs are found in diverse taxa including dicots, monocots, and representative gymnosperm, lycopod and bryophyte plants, SIF1 gene must be of importance to plants.

We have used the split YFP assay to confirm SIF1-SON1 protein interaction on planta. Furthermore our SIF1 promoter GFP experiments revealed that, SIF1 gene is expressed in guard cells. The expression of SIF1 in guard may implicate SIF1 and SON1 in a guard cell function or in guard cell defense. Experiments are underway to examine the role of SIF1 in guard cell function or defense. Ongoing experiments are geared towards understanding SIF1 function in plants.

Click here to meet the Field Naturalist students.

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