Stacey Darling-Novak, professor of biology, discussed early orchid development and the role of microbes and hormones Tuesday in the President’s Dining Room.
For her research she looked at the relationship between auxins, a protein that contributes to elongation of the root, and brassinosteroids, a different protein that contributes to plant growth and development.
“Our question is: Do brassinosteroids assist in the flow of auxin and help to facilitate development? If so, what is that mechanism?” Darling-Novak said.
She said she chose to study orchids because they presents a natural and vivid way to look at embryo development.
“Orchids give us the possibility to look at some bacteria that we normally wouldn’t find in other systems because orchids are very needy.”
Orchids have very tiny seeds with a thin coating, which makes them vulnerable, Darling-Novak explained.
The vulnerability of the seeds, with the ability to go through the process of embryogenesis is another reason why she said she chose to work with orchids.
“Defensive types bacteria may be working with them, and we can acquire them through studying the orchids,” Darling-Novak said.
The problem with studying orchids, she said, is that no one has really studied the effects of brassinosteroids on orchids, so she had to “lay the groundwork.”
“From previous work that I have done before, we know that normal polar auxin transport is key for orchid germination,” she said.
She said that overall, both the auxin and the brassinosteroids are needed for elongation and growth.
Darling-Novak and her students’ experiments proved that Polar Auxin Transport, or PAT, inhibitors such as synthetic auxin do not allow orchids to metabolize.
“If we have high auxin levels, and if we use PAT inhibitors, we’re not going to get normal chute formation,” Darling-Novak said.
Once the brassinosteroid EBL is added back, everything in the plant’s development will go back to normal, Darling-Novak said.
Darling-Novak’s students helped her conduct her research and worked with her throughout the process.
“You go into research and you expect one thing, but most of the time it doesn’t come out as what you expected so you’re constantly troubleshooting,” said Katrina Hagewood, a senior biology major who worked with Darling-Novak on the research.
“When you look at plants you think, ‘oh that’s not interesting, it’s not an animal, it’s not breathing per se, it’s not talking, so how is it important for me?’” said senior biology major Kristelle Gatchalian, who also worked with Darling-Novak.
“But then when you get into lab it actually makes sense because the way these plants function is actually the way your body functions. You have veins, they have veins. It’s difficult to imagine at first, but once you get in there it’s like, ‘oh, plants are pretty cool,’” she said.
Although Darling-Novak discussed the findings of her research during the lecture,junior biology major George Dolan Hunter, who also worked on the project, said that it is still not complete.
“The research is never done,” Hunter said. “It can always be applied to something (beyond orchids) and examined over again.”
Jocelyn Arceo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.