Mechanical signal transduction and growth control: role of osmoregulation and cell wall extensibility

Project: Research project

Project Details


This research will analyze how plants sense and adjust to their mechanical environment. Plants constantly experience mechanical challenges such as wind, heavy rain or dense soils. Many plants respond to these challenges by developing thicker, shorter stems and by tuning the architecture of their root systems for enhanced stability and strength. In crop plants, such responses play an important role in determining yield. To improve plant growth under adverse mechanical conditions, it is essential to understand how plants perceive mechanical challenges and how they translate this information into appropriate developmental responses. This project will analyze how the activity of plant membrane proteins is coordinated to modulate the mechanical properties of plant cells and organs in response to mechanical challenges. Understanding such processes should be of practical value in engineering more resilient and robust agricultural crops. Furthermore, tools will be developed that will enable researchers to identify which cells in a plant experience mechanical stresses under different growth conditions. Finally, this project will provide training opportunities in modern molecular biology and microscopy techniques for a postdoctoral researcher, graduate and undergraduate students. It also includes effective hands-on investigation of original hypotheses by large numbers of students while introducing high school students to molecular biology research and techniques.

Cellular perception of mechanical stress is a key element of growth control in plants. Mechanical forces associated with turgor pressure are harnessed to drive cellular expansion while mechanical cues imposed by the environment typically cause a reduction in cell elongation. The principal investigator's laboratory has identified the receptor-like kinase FERONIA as both a key regulator of mechanical Ca2+ signaling and a control element of cell expansion and growth responses to environmental mechanical challenges. A major research goal is to identify targets of FERONIA-dependent signaling and to understand how these signaling components impact cell expansion. To this end imaging-based tools will be developed to quantify rapid cellular osmoregulation, determine changes in viscoelastic properties of cell walls, and characterize the distribution and magnitude of mechanical signaling patterns in living tissues. This research aims to provide insight into the molecular mechanisms of mechanical signal transduction, identify strategies to enhance plant mechanical strength and provide the means to monitor mechanical stress in situ during plant development.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date8/1/187/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $819,855.00


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