Emma Mckechnie-Welsh

Postgraduate Researcher Genes in the Environment

Emma’s PhD project investigates the functional role of IQD proteins in shoot growth from the shoot apical meristem in the model plant Arabidopsis.

Emma is investigating the IQD gene family for several reasons. The family is large and conserved from the early evolution of land plants 450–700 Mya indicating an important function in plants, and yet the proteins’ cellular functions and role in plants is yet to be defined.

Preliminary research on the IQD gene family demonstrated interesting cellular localisation patterns, with a large proportion of the family in Arabidopsis localising to cortical microtubules as well as nuclear and plasma membrane sites. All IQD proteins also possess the IQ67-domain capable of binding calmodulin independently of calcium, and additional calcium dependent calmodulin binding sites.

Crop plants such as tomato and rice exhibit altered fruit shape upon IQD miss-expression indicating IQD function lies in key agronomic traits.

Emma is focusing on IQD family members highlighted by ChIP-seq data as regulated by transcription factors important for shoot growth. This spans ten of the thirty-three IQD members in Arabidopsis. As redundancy likely contributes to the lack of phenotype in IQD mutant plants she will focus on creating higher order mutants, as well as investigating effect of ectopic miss-expression in meristematic regions on plant growth.

Emma hopes to better understand IQD proteins’ cellular function, particularly relating to cortical microtubule organisation, and whether their function is coordinated by calcium signalling.

Through functionally characterising this novel gene family information acquired could be used to increase yield in a large variety of important crops.