Improving our understanding of plant survival over winter

Problem Title

Improving our understanding of plant survival over winter

Scientific Title

Quantification of gene expression changes during cold acclimation and deacclimation in perennial ryegrass and comparative analysis between different genetic variants and tissue types

Student: 
Olivia Roberts-Sano
Major(s): 
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
iCons Concentration: 
Biomedicine/Biosystems
iCons Class Year: 
Class of 2015
Executive Summary 

Inconsistent winter conditions magnified by climate change are responsible for huge crop losses and turf destruction that result in wasted natural resources, energy, and money. Despite the volume of research on mechanisms that plants use to acclimate and build tolerance to the cold, there have not been reliable improvements on plant survival over winter.

Less studied is deacclimation, the faster process in which plants lose cold tolerance in response to warmer weather. If cold acclimated plants lose their cold tolerance in a temporary thaw, then they will be susceptible to the cold when temperatures drop again. Thus understanding deacclimation and its speed may be the key to winter survival.

We hope to improve understanding of deacclimation by measuring the gene expression of grasses during their early and late deacclimation to cold. We will measure and compare the RNA levels of specific genes implicated in cold tolerance through quantitative polymerase chain reaction(qPCR). This will give us a map of when and where genes are turned on during deacclimation compared to the more studied acclimation process.

A better map to deacclimation may help us create smarter plant management practices and targeted breeding that make plants resist fast deacclimation in temporary thaws and keep their cold tolerance throughout winter. Improving plant survival would reduce crop and turf loss which would boost economic gains for farmers and turf managers and would conserve natural resources.

Problem Keywords: 
plant survival in cold
Scientific Keywords: 
deacclimation
perennial ryegrass
qPCR