Plants, just like animals, start life as a single cell. This cell and its daughters then need to lay down the reference points required for realizing a complex body plan. We would like to understand the molecular mechanics of this process: which cues do plant embryos read-out and how do they interpret them to derive basic positional values, such as top/bottom, surface/interior? We are studying these questions in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana using a variety of approaches, including genetics, targeted manipulations, and imaging.
The two main projects in the lab revolve around key functions in the early patterning process we have originally identified by mutation: a MAP kinase pathway promoting elongation of the zygote and development of its basal daughter cell into the suspensor; and a family of GATA-type transcription factors required for positioning the boundary between suspensor and proembryo, across which the root is organized.
In addition, we have recently begun to look into the role of a kinesin-5 gene in organizing the microtubule arrays mediating nuclear division and cytokinesis. This new project is driven entirely by undergraduate students.