Panicle length in Oryza sativa
Domesticated rice, Oryza sativa, is an important crop that feeds nearly half of the world’s population. Seven years ago, rice became the first crop plant to have its genome fully sequenced. With the decrease in price and the increased efficiency of next-generation sequencing technology over the past decade, it has become much easier to obtain an entire genome for multiple individuals of a given species. Thus, for a plant breeder, phenotyping has become the rate-limiting factor in mapping genes to specific traits, as it is very costly and time intensive. In the summer of 2012 I interned in the McCouch lab and my project focused on the development of rice and the phenotypic plasticity of its reproductive organ, known as a panicle, under various environmental conditions. To simultaneously measure numerous panicle phenotypes, I photographed dried panicle samples from both the field and greenhouse trials and ran the images through a semi-automated computer pipeline. I then used basic statistics to analyze the phenotypes extracted from the panicle images. Understanding how the genes that ultimately control panicle architecture and development varies under different environmental conditions are critical if we hope to continue breeding rice cultivars with higher grain yields or increased grain-filling abilities.
A year ago, I decided I wanted to go to graduate school. After interning under the supervision of a graduate student, Sam Crowell of the McCouch lab, I knew that it is something I will not only pursue but will also love. Despite the arduous work of data collection and the head-pounding data analyses, being able to feel like your research is making a world of a difference makes it all worthwhile.
In addition to this, the McCouch lab has taught me the importance of collaboration and teamwork. The McCouch lab consists of various talented individuals, from statisticians and computational biologists to students and researchers, whom work together, constantly exchanging ideas, towards a goal. The McCouch lab often collaborates with other institutions across the world, such as the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.