Public Release: 

UCR plant cell biologist to study how plant stem cells maintain and change their identity

4-year grant of $1 million will fund the research project

University of California - Riverside

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - A plant cell biologist at UC Riverside has received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate how plant stem-cells maintain their identity and how they eventually get specialized into different cell types.

According to G. Venugopala Reddy, the principal investigator of the four-year grant, the research, which will focus only on plants, has potential to lead to better insights into how stem cells communicate with each other both before and after they are transformed into specialized cells that lead to the development of different plant organs.

Specifically, Reddy, an assistant professor of plant cell biology who joined UCR's Department of Botany and Plant Sciences last year, will utilize two powerful methods in his research: microgenomics, which will help identify which genes are active in the stem cells; and live imaging, which will allow him to monitor, in real time, how individual proteins interact in living plant cells.

"This research may lead to better insights into stem-cell regulation," Reddy said. "This can come about only by understanding how stem cells are made and maintained, and by deciphering which genes are involved and how they function."

Reddy expects the research will help him understand, at the molecular and cellular levels, what governs and mediates "cell identity transition," the process when a cell loses its original identity to become a new type of cell.

Plants, like animals, have stem cells. Plant stem cells, which can transform themselves into many other types, give rise to all the cells in the plant. These master cells are found on the tip of the plant's stem.

"These cells are maintained for thousands of years in plants," explained Reddy, who is also a member of UCR's Center for Plant Cell Biology. "Scientists want to understand how stem cell identity is maintained in plants for so long and how they transition into other cell types."

His research will involve first isolating stem cells from other cells in a mustard-like plant called Arabidopsis, a model plant species. Next, using special techniques, he will determine which genes are active in the stem cells. Finally, he will use genetic methods to understand how the genes function in networks to specify and maintain stem cells.

He will be joined in the research by some of his postdoctoral researchers, graduate students and undergraduate students.

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About G. Venugopala Reddy:

G. Venugopala Reddy received his doctoral degree from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, India, in 1999. The same year, he received a Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research Foundation postdoctoral fellowship to pursue research at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, where he co-developed a live-imaging method to study the dynamics in the shoot apex of Arabidopsis. At UCR, which he joined in 2006, he studies the dynamics of stem-cell maintenance in the shoot apex of Arabidopsis.

The University of California, Riverside is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment of about 17,000 is projected to grow to 21,000 students by 2010. The campus is planning a medical school and already has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Graduate Center. With an annual statewide economic impact of nearly $1 billion, UCR is actively shaping the region's future. To learn more, visit www.ucr.edu or call (951) UCR-NEWS.

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