Abby Kelly
Abby Kelly
Faculty Advisor: Georg Jander
Year: 2021

“Analysis of Benzoxazinoid Content in Maize Leaf Waxes”

Project Summary:

This summer, I investigated the levels of benzoxazinoids (BX’s) in the cuticular waxes in maize. It is widely accepted that the main function of the epicuticular wax on the surface of leaves is as a water barrier. Very little, however, is known about other possible functions of these waxes, such as the role of their metabolite content in insect resistance. The surface waxes of leaves are the very first physical line of defense that plants have against insect herbivory, so investigating their composition could lead to new insights regarding plant defense techniques.

The first part of my work was focused on optimizing a procedure to extract the cuticular waxes from the leaves. My final procedure involved first cutting a section of leaf off and measuring the surface area, then submerging the leaf section in chloroform to strip off the waxes. After dipping the leaves in chloroform, I recovered the wax residue by evaporating off the chloroform under a nitrogen stream while in a hot water bath.

After optimizing the procedure, I analyzed the BX content of approximately 30 genetically diverse maize lines using liquid chromatography – mass spectrometry. This allowed me to identify the BX’s of interest and quantify their relative abundances. Using a Dunnett’s t-test, I was able to determine which lines had statistically significant BX levels when compared to a baseline. In the end, I was able to identify several lines of maize with significant differences in BX content, which could impact insect resistance.

My Experience:

This summer, I was able to gain experience working in a laboratory environment. I learned more about the research process, as well as the general environment surrounding working in academia. My skills at searching the literature for information relevant to my project increased greatly, as I spent much time working to optimize procedures.

I also was able to meet and talk to several excellent mentors. They shared their own experiences in science and gave me advice on applying to graduate school. The program has given me a much better idea of what working in research involves, and has helped prepare me for applying to graduate school.