Felix Fernandez-Penny
Felix Fernandez-Penny
Year: 2014
Faculty Advisor: Georg Jander

Methods for transient expression in milkweed

Project Summary

Cardiac glycosides are a diverse family of plant secondary metabolites that have historically been used for a multitude of human medicinal purposes. Their applications include uses in medications warding against heart disease and more recently research has been conducted into their ability to act as cancer suppressants. Current studies aim to learn more about the genetic pathways involved in cardenolide (cardiac glycosides in their aglycone form) biosynthesis. Unlike other model plant systems such as maize, wheat, and rice, Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed)lacks a reference genomic platform. Research partnered between the Agrawal, Mueller and Jander labs aims “to advance A. syriaca from an ecological model system to a genetic and genomic model system that can be used to investigate the biosynthesis of medicinally relevant plant metabolites.” This work will provide a reference platform for further investigation of A. syriaca at genomic and genetic levels and will supply information that holds with it the potential for future innovations in medicine using cardenolides. This summer, my research project will begin developing a set of reliable methods for genetic transformation of Asclepias species,A. pulchra, A. incaranta,and A. syriaca, chosen on the basis of their varying levels of different cardiac glycosides. These include methods for gene silencing, and gene overexpression. To begin, we will try implementing already established transformation protocols for other species in milkweed. This will include the infiltration of plants with Agrobacterium constructs for over expression as well as Virus-Induced Gene Silencing (VIGS). VIGS will target the phytoene desaturase (PDS) gene, which will induce an intense photobleaching phenotype if silenced. Furthermore, the PDS sequence should remain relatively constrained between plant species (as it exists in all varieties) allowing us to draw from experiments done in other model systems.

My Experience

This summer marks the beginning of my second year as in intern in the Jander Lab here at BTI. Having begun as a high school intern in the summer of 2013, I look forward to the new opportunities presented with participation in the undergraduate program. It’s been such a joy and incredible experience working alongside the members of the Jander Lab over the past year and I can’t wait to begin a new chapter as I embark on a new project this summer. Working with my mentor, Postdoctoral Scientist, Tengfang Huang has been a rewarding experience so far and I look forward to what is to come as the summer continues. The chance to work with new people allows insight into new methods, perspectives, and analyses of the work being done. Tengfang has already taught me so much and I am incalculably grateful for his guidance and patience. I’d like to extend a special thanks to Tiffany Fleming, Georg Jander, Tengfang Huang and all of the Jander Lab, fellow interns, and the wonderful staff at BTI for making my time here so memorable and such a delight to return to each day.