About This Project
Plants are faced with multiple stress factors, including insect herbivory and flooding. These plant stresses are transient, and the recovery phase after stress events is critical. Thus, plant resilience is determined by acclimation to stress and recovery after stress. However, our knowledge about how plants recover is limited. Using tomato as the model plant, we will uncover how plants recover and the essential genes involved.
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What is the context of this research?
Most studies so far have focused on understanding how plants actively respond to environmental changes, with little attention on how plants recover. Because of climate change, the frequency and magnitude of plant stresses including flooding and insect herbivory, has increased. While flooding and insect herbivory can be lethal, the post-stress period can equally be injurious. The few available studies including those done on model plants such as Arabidopsis thaliana suggest that novel genes, hormones, and signaling pathways underpin effective plant recovery strategies. Gene expression studies provide us the opportunity to understand plant recovery after stress.
What is the significance of this project?
The fundamental question we are answering is how tomato plants recover after encountering herbivory, flooding stress and both stresses together. This will help identify key genes, downstream reactions, signals, and other traits that are important in during stress recovery.
We will uncover the dynamic molecular events and hierarchy of processes that underpin effective tomato plant recovery from flooding and herbivory stress. This data and knowledge are critical and will aid the generation of climate-resilient tomato crops. In addition, knowledge gained about the essential genes and other traits that contribute to tomato plant recovery can help in the breeding of tomato plant varieties that can recover from stresses of economic importance such as flooding and insect herbivory.
What are the goals of the project?
We will use the funds to pay for a greenhouse to grow tomato plants and pay a student to maintain the growing tomato plants. The bulk of the money will be used to pay for RNA sequencing.
Tomato plants will be grown for three weeks. After that, they will randomly be assigned to four groups; flooded, not flooded, herbivore damaged and flooded + herbivore damage. Flooding will be done by filling the pots with water up to 5 cm above the soil surface. Plants will be flooded for 14 days. Samples will be collected after flooding (days 1, 4, 7, and 14) to understand the novel genes involved in recovery after flooding and herbivory. Root and shoots will be sequenced. For herbivory, we will use the beet armyworm. We plan on publishing the results obtained from this research.
Funds are requested to cover gene expression analysis and to rent greenhouse space and buy supplies to grow tomato plants and rear insects. We will also use funds to cover for an undergraduate student researcher.
July 1- 7- Renting of greenhouse facility at UIUC Plant Care Facility and acquisition of tomato seeds and other materials needed for the project. July 16-Transplant tomato plants. July 25-August 18-Flooding cycle and recovery period and data collection and beginning of RNA sequencing and analysis.
Jul 07, 2021
Germinating tomato transplants
Jul 07, 2021
Jul 16, 2021
Transplanting tomato plants
Jul 25, 2021
The flooding cycle begins, collection of data during tomato plant recovery and submitting samples for RNA sequencing, data analysis, and manuscript writing
Aug 18, 2021
Collection of data during tomato plant recovery from flooding and herbivory
Meet the Team
This project will be done in collaboration with Dr. Bernarda Calla.
Dr. Esther Ngumbi is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Entomology, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Her research is investigating how plants such as corn and tomato respond to stresses including flooding, herbivory and drought. Specifically, we are looking at how these stresses alter plant chemistry. Plant chemistry mediates conversations between plants, insects, and plant associated microorganisms.
Underlying these plant chemistry changes are yet to be deciphered networks of genes and phytohormonal changes.In addition, I am investigating the role beneficial soil microbes such as plant growth promoting rhizobacteria and mycorrhizal fungi play in helping plants to grow better, fend off insects and and tolerate abiotic stress.
I grew up seeing these stresses plants face firsthand. I still remember how flooding detrimentally affected my patch of cabbage that I was growing when I was 7 years old. I still remember how we would work hard in the farm to grow crops. Halfway through the season, insects would come and eat half of our crop plants. What insects hadn't taken away, drought would. This inspired me to pursue a career and research that would allow me to learn about these stresses and find solutions. Today, as an Entomologist, my research is addressing these challenges. I am inspired to keep finding solutions. Because of climate change, the frequency and intensity of these stresses has increased. I am determined to keep finding the solutions. I will never tire. All the solutions ultimately allow us to sustainably grow our crops and -to feed humanity sustainably.
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How does your project use the scientific method to address embodied observation, embedded context, and/or collective impact?
I grew up on the Kenyan Coast. At seven years, I gave farming a try. My father gave me a strip of land on the riverbank. I planted cabbages. The cabbages grew so well and every morning, I would go to my plot to take care of them and observe their growth. My cabbage patch became my happy place. Until one day. For three days, rains kept on pouring heavily. My cabbage patch became flooded. For almost a week the cabbages were flooded. After a week, when the floodwaters receded, my cabbages were dead. My happy place had been taken away by flooding. At the same time, growing up, my family and I also farmed other crops including corn and tomatoes. We worked very hard, but, halfway through the farming season, insects would come and eat our crops. What insects hadn't taken away, the drought would. All of these observations and firsthand experiences inspired me to pursue a career and research that would allow me to learn about these stresses and find solutions.
I later found out that the career I would need to pursue to allow me to generate solutions to these challenges was Entomology. Today, I am an Entomologist. My research is addressing these challenges. Because of climate change, the frequency and intensity of these stresses have increased. I am determined to keep finding the solutions. I will never tire. All the solutions ultimately allow us to sustainably grow our crops and -feed humanity sustainably.
And while I am happy that I am on the frontline addressing these challenges, my journey was not easy. Early on, while pursuing a Bachelor of Science, I noticed that women were few. And there were reasons. Right from childhood women in my native country, are considered to be less intelligent. They are further expected to be domestic household helpers and carry out the bulk of duties including fetching water, firewood, and cooking for the family. These constraints stress women, leading to high school dropout rates. As a result, few girls end up pursuing higher education with a focus on science. For those that decide to pursue science, we are faced with other constraints which include; poor quality of science training, shortage of good faculty, lack of modern laboratories, limited access to computers and internet, inadequate funds to sustain a good program, lack of senior women scientist mentors and network of female peers, making it hard to survive in a workplace that is characterized by discrimination and minority dynamics.
Throughout my science journey, I also saw firsthand how women of color science journeys were difficult. Faced with many biases and barriers, black women, women of color, and minorities are pushed away from science. Against all odds and barriers, I made it. Against all barriers, women of color and minorities are making it.
These lived experiences and observations have inspired me to persist. In addition, I am determined to continue discovering that what has not been discovered. Moreover, along my research journey, I strive to engage others-particularly women of color and minorities. I also strive to participate in outreach. Through my Science journey, I want to showcase that - -YES, indeed, black women are still in science, and they are making novel discoveries and breakthroughs, which ultimately contribute solutions to societal pressing challenges including climate change and rising food insecurity.
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