Our research interests in plant biology are focussed on understanding and enhancing photosynthesis and plant productivity. The increasing demand for food production combined with declining freshwater supplies and more frequent droughts presents a major challenge to agriculture and food security. To address this, we study water use efficiency (WUE) in plants, which measures the biomass produced per unit of water consumed. The goal is to develop more water-efficient crops and promote climate-smart agriculture. Our research employs a range of functional genomic and synthetic-biology techniques, including single-cell sequencing, epidermal cell enrichment, RNA sequencing, and targeted genetic manipulation using genome editing.
Understanding and Enhancing Water Use in C4 Plants
Water use efficiency is a complex trait, governed by different factors, like leaf-anatomy, leaf hydraulics, carboxylation capacity, spatial patterning of stomata, co-ordination of subsidiary cells, underlying mesophyll airspaces and CO2 diffusion etc. This project will use a wide array of functional genomic and synthetic biology techniques to understand the different parameters resulting in high water use efficiency in C4 plants. Gynandropsis gynandra and Amaranthus sp. will be used as dicots while Millets (Setaria sp.) and Sorghum will be used as monocot systems to understand water use efficiency traits.
Cereal Grafting: A research tool to understand plant physiology and genetics
Although water use efficiency within a species can vary, the greatest differences are found across species, for example crops like sorghum and millets have higher water use efficiency compared with the global staples like rice and wheat. This project will harness the great potential that the field of monocot grafting entails for crop improvement. Interspecific-cereal grafts will be generated to understand water use strategies that will in turn enable sustained food production.
Identifying Guard Cell Specific Promoters in Cereals
Our present understanding of water use is limited and particularly biased by study of certain dicot species like Arabidopsis, tomato and soyabean. There is an obvious gap in our understanding of traits underpinning water use, particularly in rice and wheat. This research project will address the following overarching question; can the targeted manipulation of the guard cell in cereal crops like rice and wheat lead to changes in water use efficiency? For guard cell-specific manipulation, the project will employ a wide range of complementary techniques such as single-cell sequencing, epidermal cell enrichment, RNA-sequencing, and genome editing.
Plants that we study
Gynandropsis gynandra is a green-leafy, dicotyledonous, vegetable plant with both nutritional and medicinal value. It is a member of Cleomaceae, sister clade to the Brassicaceae. Owing to its close evolutionary relationship with C3 Arabidopsis thaliana, it has also been employed as a model plant to understand the evolution and regulation of C4 photosynthesis.
Diploid C4 grasses Setaria italica and Setaria viridis have great drought tolerance traits and their vast germplasm collection, present ample opportunities for exploring the domestication process and discovering new allelic variation. These characteristics collectively indicate that these grasses are exceptionally well-suited for investigating water use traits, and serving as C4 monocotyledonous models.