Maya Cothran
Maya Cothran
Year: 2019
Faculty Advisor: Olena Vatamaniuk

Investigation into the SPL7-orchestated and miRNA regulated copper homeostasis and fertility in Brachypodium distachyon

It is vital for both plants and animals to maintain copper homeostasis for an array of biological functions, including fertility. Specifically, our past findings have shown that copper is essential for pollen fertility in model dicotyledonous plant, Arabidopsis thaliana. Most recently, we found that copper is essential for pistil stigma development and flowering time in A. thaliana as well as in a grass species, Brachypodium distachyon. Several small noncoding RNA molecules such as miRNAs (e.g. miR156, miR159, miR167 and miR172) are involved in flower development and fertility. Their relationship to copper homeostasis however, is unknown. Based on studies in Arabidopsis thaliana, it has been recognized that copper homeostasis is regulated by a transcription factor, SPL7 (Squamosa Promoter binding protein-Like7) that in addition to regulating genes involved in copper transport, also regulates the expression of a number of miRNAs including miR397, miR398 and miR408. Whether miR156, miR159, miR167 and miR172 are regulated by copper deficiency and whether this regulation depends on SPL7 is unknown. Here, we will test the hypothesis that the expression of developmental microRNA, miR172, and copper homeostasis microRNA, miR398 are both regulated by copper availability and at least in part depends on SPL7 in B. distachyon. We will compare the expression of these miRNAs in different tissues of wild-type Brachypodium vs. the spl7 mutant under multiple concentrations of copper. Elucidating this relationship between miRNAs involved in both reproduction and copper deficiency and their regulation by SPL7 will shed light upon possible designs to promote wheat fertility in 30% of the earth’s arable land that is known to be copper deficient.


My Experience

My experience as a BTI intern has been nothing short of pleasant and enriching. Interning has been so much more than gaining research experience in a lab. The program is really designed to build you as a professional within science as a whole. I really appreciated the extra elements of the program such as learning how to communicate science through outreach with the Alliance for Science, learning how to create and edit Wikipedia articles, and attending the weekly seminars to learn about new findings within the plant science community. All these aspects contributed greatly to improving my own communication skills with the public. I was also able to learn much more about graduate school, business start up, and just how interdisciplinary research could be. Being able to take part in this internship has opened my eyes to so many different avenues in which I can use my strengths even beyond wet lab research. This experience has gotten me very excited about what my future holds and has really inspired me to dive deeper into applying plant science to human health.