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Full Stream Name: Sarah Simmons Cell Signaling

Research Educator: Greg Clark

Principal Investigator: Stan Roux

Credit Options: Spring & Fall

How does the environment impact what cells do?

A recent exciting discovery in plants is that ATP is released into the cell wall during plant growth where it plays a major role in controlling how fast cells grow. Students in this stream carry out never-done-before experiments on this topic and discover significant new findings on how extracellular ATP controls growth. They learn methods of experimental design, data gathering, data interpretation, and data presentation, and they learn principles of stimulus-response coupling that apply equally well to animals and plants. Specifically, students will do their experiments on extracellular ATP signaling in root hairs, an agriculturally important model system for studying plant growth.

Our FRI stream is addressing the question of what signaling steps mediate the effects of extracellular nucleotides on the polarized growth of single-celled root hairs, structures that are crucial for plants' absorption of water and nutrients from the soil. The experiments constitute a novel test of a relatively new hypothesis, first published last year, which predicts that extracellular ATP and ADP (eATP and eADP) can influence plant growth and development by functioning like hormones, as they do in animal cells, and that they initiate growth-affecting changes in cells through the mediation of a cell-surface protein receptor called a purinoceptor that can bind either ATP or ADP. eATP and eADP have been confirmed to act as hormones in animals cells, where they rapidly induce an increase in [Ca2+]cyt, a change that commonly leads to the activation of signaling pathways that greatly influence cell activities in both plants and animals. 

Course Objectives:

  • Carry out never-done-before experiments and discover new findings on a question of significant current interest
  • Learn methods of experimental design, data gathering, data interpretation, and data presentation
  • Learn process of establishing credibility of new data
  • Hone observational skills and skills of devising alternative hypotheses to interpret experimental results
  • Learn through experimentation and data interpretation basic principles of stimulus-response coupling

Design and Flow of Course:

  • Students carry out four rounds of original experiments on a question of current interest in the field of plant signal transduction
  • Each round has two weeks of experimentation and data gathering followed by a third week of data analysis and oral/written presentations
  • After each round each team designs and provides rationale for experiment to be carried out in next round
  • Students work in teams of two, sharing equal responsibility for experimentation, data gathering, data interpretation, experiment design
  • Lab sessions typically begin with lecture that provides information needed to understand background and significance of experiments
  • Techniques needed are relatively simple and will be taught in the first one or two laboratory meetings, so that focus is on process of discovery rather than on developing specialized technical skills.

School of Biological Sciences Website: http://www.biosci.utexas.edu/

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Biology, Environmental Science