Brent Nielsen:Notebook/Arabidopsis Plant Project

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Project Description/Abstract

There are three research projects in my laboratory: plant organelle DNA maintenance, proteomics and gene expression in halophytes, and the association of mutations in the human genome with depression and anxiety disorders and the association of fibromyalgia with mitochondrial mutations.

Mitochondria are the powerhouses of eukaryotic cells and produce ATP for cellular processes. Mitochondria contain DNA (mtDNA) that encodes only a few but essential genes, while most proteins for mitochondrial function are encoded in the nucleus and the proteins must be imported into mitochondria. MtDNA is susceptible to damage from oxygen free radicals that are produced during respiration, and mutations leading to mitochondrial diseases have been identified in humans. We are studying families and individuals that have a family history of inherited fibromyalgia with apparent mitochondrial linkage to identify the mutation(s) involved.

We are also analyzing specific genetic markers associated with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders in healthy, athletic senior citizens in comparison with a general population of senior citizens. We are using PCR to classify the genetic markers and are comparing the results with written survey data collected from the participants to evaluate correlations of the markers with each condition. This has the potential to enhance the ability to correctly diagnose or to predict the potential for developing these conditions.

Our laboratory has been working for many years to study plant genes encoding mitochondrial and chloroplast DNA replication and recombination proteins and to determine their role in the maintenance of the organelle genomes during plant development. We are analyzing T-DNA insertion mutants for each of these genes to determine the effect of disruption of expression of each on plant development. Our findings indicate that the two dual-targeted DNA polymerases have different but partially overlapping functions in mitochondria and chloroplasts, and that mitochondrial DNA recombination is likely involved in replication and maintenance of the mitochondrial genome.

Halophytes are plants that grow optimally in salty soils and have potential for development as agricultural crops. However, little is known about the changes in proteins expressed in these plants when grown under optimal salt conditions. We are using MudPIT mass spectrometry to identify proteins expressed in plants grown at different salt levels. We are also conducting transcriptome analysis to identify the genes expressed under each condition. This will lead to a better understanding of how different plant species have developed the ability to grow at high salt levels, and some of these plants may be useful as crops for farmers in developing countries with high salinity soils.

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