Lily Saar
Lily Saar headshot
Year: 2023
Faculty Advisor: Li Li

Exploring the roles of carotenoids in governing reproductive fitness in tomato

Carotenoids are a collection of indispensable pigments that exist in many forms of life and are essential for human health. In plants, they are photoprotectants, act as precursors for phytohormone synthesis, serve as signaling molecules, function to attract pollinators, and have verified antioxidant properties. As growing conditions vary due to the advent of climate change, formulating resilient and nutritionally dense crops has become an increasingly important aspect of agriculture, and carotenoids may be one key to accomplishing this. In this study, we investigated the role of carotenoids in relation to tomato reproductive fitness using phytoene synthase 1 (psy1) mutants. PSY is the most important enzyme that initiates the creation of carotenoids in plastids. When the psy1 gene is mutated or repressed, the synthesis of carotenoids in fruit is significantly downregulated in tomatoes. In this study, it was found that psy1 affects total carotenoid level and carotenoid profile in flowers, as well as pollen germination and tube length. In addition, the level of pollen tube reactive oxygen species is impacted by this mutation. Application of β-carotene on psy1 pollen increases germination rate and pollen tube length. Treatment of psy1 pollen with antioxidant ascorbate increases germination rates. Overall, these findings support that carotenoids have a significant role in reproductive fitness in tomatoes and thus this research has implications for the creation of more resilient crops to improve nutrition and agriculture in a sustainable manner.

Through this program, I gained many skills relating to plant biology research, but I also gained so much more. My mentors and peers have contributed a lot to my knowledge of research and graduate school in general, and I have learned through this program that even though research requires a lot of time and effort, it is undoubtedly fun and exciting. As I have had an interest in plants for a long time, I was happy to finally be able to research them hands on. This experience helped me appreciate plant research even more and will be an integral part of my future career decisions.