Briana Hashim
Briana Hashim headshot
Year: 2023
Faculty Advisor: Maria Harrison

Investigating a pair of plasma membrane kinases and their impact on arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis

Arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM) symbiosis is a mutualistic relationship between plants and fungi supported by over 80% of land plants, including many crop species, making it an ecologically, evolutionarily, and agriculturally important plant-microbe relationship. This association is characterized by intraradical growth of the fungus culminating in the transfer of phosphates and nitrogen to the plant, and in turn, carbohydrates and lipids to the fungi. Therefore, AM symbiosis presents a promising and ecologically sound alternative to reliance on chemical fertilizers to address phosphorus-deficiency in crop cultivation. Despite AM symbiosis’ importance and agricultural utility, little is understood about how host plants are able to undergo the great physiological changes needed to accommodate their intracellular fungal symbiont. To address this question, a phylogenetic study was previously performed to identify genes that exhibit high conservation in AM hosts. In this study, two of these conserved genes that are predicted to encode a homologous pair of leucine-rich repeat receptor-like kinases were selected for characterization. For this purpose, we carried out an extensive array of mutant phenotypic analyses, and utilized RT-qPCR, and prepared for a split ubiquitin yeast-2-hybrid assay, to shed light on the potential roles of these genes in AM symbiosis.

During my time at the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) REU program, I had the invaluable opportunity to acquire laboratory skills not readily available at my home institution. A highlight was utilizing a confocal microscope for the first time to image infection units in roots, a fascinating and enriching experience. Interacting with my principal investigator (PI) and mentor was just the beginning; I also established connections with other PIs, mentors, and graduate students from Cornell. This provided me with a valuable insight into Cornell’s graduate student program and the diverse research activities underway at BTI. As a result, my network expanded, and I developed greater confidence in my capability to do scientific research, deepening my understanding of plant-fungal symbiotic relationships. The REU experience has undoubtedly left a lasting impact on my scientific journey, enriching my skills and fostering a sense of collaboration within the scientific community.