One of the long range scientific goal of our laboratory is to understand the process of developmentally regulated programmed cell death (PCD) in plants by using a combination of genetics, reverse genetics, molecular and cell biological approaches. Even though cell death is an essential developmental mechanism, little is understood about its regulation, biochemistry, or its cell biological basis. We use Arabidopsis thaliana, Zea mays (corn) and Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco) as model systems to study cell death in plants because of their well-established genetic and molecular tools.
Developmentally regulated programmed cell death occurs in many plant processes including embryogenesis, vascularization, defense responses, and, in some plants, during the formation of unisexual flowers. Ultrastructural studies on these and other processes have suggested the presence of a characteristic cell death process in plants. There is also a well-characterized description of programmed cell death occurring in animals, called apoptosis. However, there is no evidence that the process occurring in plants is related to apoptosis in animals. If there is any conservation between animal and plant cell death processes, studies on plant cell death may have direct relevance to human health, since apoptosis has been implicated in many human illnesses such as AIDS, Alzheimer's and cancer.
Some of the experimental approaches to study cell death in plants in our laboratory include: 1) To investigate the biological function of At-Dad1 from Arabidopsis thaliana as a cell protection gene during programmed cell death, using RNA in situ hybridization and PCR-based reverse genetics; 2) To address the functionality of the Ceanorabditis elegans and Drosophila melanoganster cell death genes in causing cell death in plants by using an in vivo assay in Nicotiana tabacum; 3) To address the potential application of PCD studies to control pests in plants.
California State University, Fresno