Jade Milton
Jade Milton headshot
Year: 2023
Faculty Advisor: Magda Julkowska

Investigating Endogenous Metabolite Contributions to Drought Resilience

As climate change continues to drive increased drought frequency and intensity, the global agricultural sector faces challenges in sustaining food production and ensuring food security. Here, we identified metabolic components of drought tolerance in cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) and explored their potential applicability in enhancing drought resilience in other plant species. We investigated responses to two metabolites, 1,8-cineole and N-acetyl tryptophan (NAT) on agar plates and determined the most effective concentration to enhance plant growth. Subsequently, we examined the combined effect of metabolite and osmotic stress (PEG8000). To evaluate the effect of metabolites in complex environments, we also examined the effects of each metabolite on cowpea growth in soil. The results revealed that NAT promoted root growth, while leading to reduced shoot growth in the soil conditions. On the other hand, cineole reduced root growth on agar plates, but had beneficial effects on shoot growth when plants were grown in soil. These results suggest a negative and positive role for NAT and cineole respectively in growth maintenance and drought stress resilience. In the future, the NAT and cineole can be tested in other species, to evaluate potential of both metabolites to be used in bio-fortification and future proofing our food security.

I would say that this experience was worthwhile for many reasons, but being able to work alongside my mentor, Magda Julkowska, was truly the highlight of my time here at BTI. As a minoritized person trying to find their space in the world of science, it’s rare that I truly feel capable as a scientist and fully supported in my endeavors. Magda provided an incredibly safe learning environment, where I could ask questions, mess up, confess I didn’t know how to do something (etc.), with no fear and with all of the confidence. Sure, the work I got to do was super cool and engaging, but the mentorship that came along with it is what further fueled my love of science and learning. Magda allowed me to make this experience my own, and positioned herself as a person who provides unwavering support.