Responses to abiotic stress

Plants must respond to environmental changes in order to survive. They have limited ability to use movement or behavioral changes to tolerate harsh environments. In order to produce enough food for a growing population in a changing climate it will be important for scientists to understand the mechanisms that plants use to tolerate abiotic stress. In collaboration with Edgar Spalding, Cory Hirsch, Irina Makarevitch and Natalia de Leon we are developing machine vision approaches to monitor the phenotypic responses of maize seedlings to chilling stress. We also have several projects that are monitoring the molecular changes in maize plants subjected to abiotic stress. Changes in gene expression levels are one mechanism that plants use to respond to environmental stress. We are studying natural variation in responses to abiotic stress to probe the evolution and mechanisms of gene expression responses to abiotic stress. We seek to understand how genes acquire, or lose, specific gene expression responses. By understanding how certain alleles respond to environmental stress we might be able to engineer plants with improved responses to environmental stresses such as extreme temperatures or drought. This research has been supported by the National Science Foundation. The Springer lab also participates in the Genomes to Fields initiative in order to further understand how different maize genotypes respond to variable environmental conditions.