Beckman Fellow 2011-12

Andrew Leakey

Plant Biology

Opening the Black Box of Plant Responses to Global Environmental Change with Genomic Tools

Leakey imageGlobal environmental change this century is expected to change growing conditions in farmer’s fields and impact crop yields. Anticipating and planning for those changes has particular relevance in the midwestern United States, which contributes more than 40 percent of the global soybean and maize harvests.

During his Center appointment, Professor Leakey will apply genomic tools to monitor responses of soybean to environmental changes. Specifically, his group will integrate transcript-profiling technology with biochemical and physiological analysis to assess which genes are switched on and off as plants adjust their metabolism, hormone signals, and growth patterns in response to elevated CO2 levels and drought conditions. Two hypotheses will be explored:

· Elevated CO2 levels prompt shoot-derived auxin signals that favor greater lateral root formation and growth over primary root elongation, leading to more branching and shallower root formation.

· Greater root mass at shallower levels enhances the detection of soil drying, and thereby amplifies the root-to-shoot signaling that conserves water supply at the expense of carbon gain during drought conditions.

Research findings from the project will provide a foundation for efforts to develop new soybean varieties that are adapted to future growing conditions.