Bethany Ahlers
Year: 2013
Faculty Advisor: Eric Richards

A cross species exploration of nuclear morphology

Our knowledge and understanding of the structures and mechanisms responsible for nuclear organization are based primarily on research in animal cells. In order to address the lack of understanding of plant nuclear morphology, new research specifically targeting the nuclear organization of plants has begun. However, much of this research is limited to the popular model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana. In order to broaden the base of research in this area, my project included not only A. thaliana, but three other plant species: Medicago truncatula, Nicotiana benthamiana and Solanum lycopersicum. The main objectives of the project were to determine whether there are any differences in the nuclear morphology among these plant species in regards to cell/organ-specificity in nuclear size and shape. In addition, we investigated whether environmental conditions could affect nuclear shape, using a transgenic A. thaliana line carrying a nuclear-localized GFP marker. Specifically, we exposed this line to different osmotic environments and observed whether any changes in the nuclear shape or size resulted. From this project, we have shown that differentiated (non-spherical) nuclear shapes are seen in Medicago, Nicotiana benthamiana and Solanum lycopersicum root tips, roots, hypocotyls, leaves and anthers. We also observed that altering osmotic conditions of A. thaliana does have a visual effect on the nuclear shape and size of the nuclei, suggesting that nuclear structure is easily perturbed by this type of environmental stress.

My Experience

I have always been an individual who enjoys going outside and exploring the world around me. Ever since I was old enough to go on hikes and adventures down by the Redwood River in Minnesota with my dad, I have wanted to have a job where I could study plants in and out of their natural habitat. As a PGRP intern at BTI, I was given the opportunity to dive deep into the area of plant biology at a molecular level and acquire new skills and techniques that I will carry out throughout my scientific career. The Richards lab gave me an opportunity to experience a research team that was enthusiastic and fun while still being serious about their work. I also gained confidence in my ability to think and work independently, yet felt comfortable seeking out new ideas and thoughts from my colleagues. I have decided that my career goal is to obtain a Biology Major, acquire a forestry position then transition to graduate school, and earn my PhD in Plant Ecology/Horticulture.