6/15/2015 Peter Durantine

NIH Grant Helps Professor, Students Cultivate Seed Research

This magazine article is part of Spring 2015 / Issue 81
  • Professor Jenik said his project would examine the mechanisms the seeds use to accumulate nutrients that the seedling will use after germination. Professor Jenik said his project would examine the mechanisms the seeds use to accumulate nutrients that the seedling will use after germination. Image Credit: Melissa Hess

More than a decade of studying the development of the seeds of the mustard plant Arabidopsis thaliana paid off for a Franklin & Marshall professor when he recently received a three-year, $290,049 grant from a division of the National Institutes of Health to further his research.

Assistant Professor of Biology Pablo Jenik said his project, “Characterization of novel repressors of the embryonic maturation program in Arabidopsis,” would examine the mechanisms the seeds use to accumulate nutrients that the seedling will utilize after germination, seed maturation. He begins the research this summer with the aid of F&M students MinJun Feng ’17 and Jeremy Levine ’17.

Improved knowledge of the maturation of seeds could eventually lead to improving the nutritional value of crops, Jenik said. The researchers will focus on what are known as the ASIL genes, which the professor says are good candidates for regulating the process of maturation in Arabidopsis.

The grant from the National Institute of General Medical Science will allow Jenik and his research team to conduct experiments on normal seeds and seeds with genetic mutations, and then compare the development of the two seed groups.

“We think we’re going to see differences at the seed stage and also in the seedling stage,” Jenik said. “Understanding how maturation is regulated will increase our understanding of developmental switches and may, one day in the future, help manipulate the nutritional content of crop seeds.”

Jenik and his students will begin their research this summer at the University of California, Davis, where they will work with the lab of Plant Biology Professor John Harada to collect tissue samples of the seed's embryo and endosperm using laser capture micro-dissection, which uses a special type of microscope for this purpose.

The F&M team will then return to campus to continue with their experiments and studies.

“The nutritional properties of seeds are major contributors to human health, and seed maturation includes all the processes that lead to the accumulation of those properties,” Jenik said. “The long-term goal of this project is to understand the genetic mechanisms that regulate seed maturation.”  

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