The McCourt Lab
Plant hormones are a collection of small structurally unrelated molecules that have profound effects on plant growth and development and our laboratory has been working on this area for over 20 years. Over the past decade, exciting advances grounded in molecular genetics and genomics have defined the synthesis and core-signaling pathways for many plant hormones. We believe this basic understanding of plant hormone biology is now at a level where this information can be directly applied to real world problems. With this in mind, our group is focused on two programs: Abscisic acid (ABA) and Strigolactones (SLs).
ABA Program: involves defining the first testable abscisic acid (ABA) signaling network in higher plants. ABA is a carotenoid-derived hormone that helps to protect plants against abiotic stresses such as drought and temperature. Our long-term goal is to identify gene modules that can be manipulated to protect plants from abiotic stresses where it is thought that over 60% of crop losses in the field occur. Moreover, this number will surely rise due to climate change. Further compounding this issue, we will need to feed a projected population of 9 billion people by 2050, which will require a productivity increase of 60% beyond present day levels.
SL Program: involves the recently identified hormone Strigolactone (SL). Although SLs have developmental roles within the plant these compounds are also exuded into the soil where they act as germination stimulants for parasitic plants. Upon germination, parasitic plants attach to their host roots and deplete it of nutrients. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, parasitic plants have infested up to two-thirds of the arable land spanning over 25 countries. The consequences of these infestations on developing world agriculture are devastating and for this reason the U.N. has lists controlling parasitic plants as representing the largest challenge to food security on that continent.