Research Focus: Natural Variation in Plant Abiotic Stress Response

Life scientists have traditionally used analysis of laboratory-induced mutations to elucidate gene function: if a gene is genetically knocked out, then the organisms harboring the null mutation should be deficient in phenotypes that are dependent on the encoded protein. With the rise of inexpensive full genome-sequencing, another tool is available to biologists, namely to study multiple genomes of the same species, thereby identifying natural variation in gene sequence that has been selected for either by natural selection or domestication, with the goal of determining how this variation relates to gene function and influences phenotype. We are particularly interested in experimental and in silico analysis of over 1,000 sequenced Arabidopsis genomes to determine which natural variants contribute to adaptation to the local abiotic environment. To this end, Dr. Ángel Ferrero-Serrano in our lab has developed CLIMTools, an online resource whereby association between genetic variation and environmental variation, or between environmental variation and phenotypic variation, can be assessed.

We are also interested in revealing how natural variation in G protein subunits affects abiotic stress tolerance in rice cultivars.

Natural variants in Arabidopsis exhibit different phenotypes, e.g. when grown together
in a "common garden" experiment in our Biology department greenhouse. These different
phenotypes can be correlated with differences in their genome sequences in a
GWA (genome-wide association) study, thereby identifying candidate genes that may
be responsible for the phenotypic variation.

PennState