April 3, 2012

Prof. Adrienne Roeder Studies Link Between Plant Cell Division and Identity

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Prof. Adrienne Roeder, plant biology, is new to Cornell. She is continuing her postdoctoral work researching the role of cell division in the development of plant tissues.  Roeder works in both the Department of Plant Biology and the Weill Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology.

“My position at Cornell is perfect. I am in the plant biology department, but, being part of the Weill Institute, I have access to the whole range of biology,” Roeder said. She studies the role that cell growth and division play in the diversity of cell size in the Arabidopsis sepal. Arabidopsis is a flowering plant and its sepal the green tissue located on the outside of the plant that surrounds and protects the flower.  A major part of Roeder’s research also involves imaging and computer modeling.

Roeder dissected young sepals and, after letting them regrow, captured images of the pattern changes within the organ. She observed the diversity in cell size, or patterns, of giant cells interspersed between smaller cells, which resulted from the timing of cell division. To further examine the sepal cell patterns, Roeder created a computer model that replicated growth in the sepal.

“At some fundamental level, we don’t understand how cells grow and divide to make a plant organ,” she said. “We usually think of a cell first adopting an identity and then altering its division pattern based on that identity. What I am really excited about is that my recent research implies that the reverse is also true. The way a cell divides can affect its identity, ” Roeder said.

Her research questions whether or not a cell knows if it will be a giant cell or a small cell before it divides. According to Roeder, her work will allow biologists to further delve and understand the relationship between cell division and cell identity.

Roeder has a history of laying the foundation for other researchers. During her graduate study, she identified a gene in Arabidopsis that resulted in the particular shape of the seedpod. Since then, different research groups have identified the same gene in rice and in canola. According to Roeder, her research on Arabidopsis could be related to and used in other areas of plant biology.

Before coming to Ithaca, Roeder worked with  the Expanding Horizons program, which helps introduce inner-city middle school girls to science through hands-on demonstrations.  For example, Roeder showed the girls how to isolate DNA from cauliflower using a blender. After isolating the DNA, she explained to the girls DNA’s role in all living organisms and how to translate DNA into amino acid sequences. Her lesson conclude with an explanation as to how changes in the DNA sequence led to an inactivation of a protein, which produced large heads of the cauliflower.

Another goal of the program was to show the girls examples of women leadership in science. “With no background in science, it’s really difficult to know what it is like,” Roeder said. She said that the program was very successful and she is currently looking to continue her teaching young girls about science here in Ithaca.

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Original Author: Aaron Wallace