Emma Mckechnie-Welsh

Research Assistant Genes in the Environment

Emma’s PhD project investigated the functional role of IQD proteins in shoot organ growth 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, Curcurbit family 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 as well as literature associating function to fruit shape regulation in the Cucurbit family. This spans six of the 33 IQD members in Arabidopsis.

Emma sought to overcome functional redundancy by creating higher order mutants, as well as investigating effect of ectopic miss-expression on plant growth. This supported use of the experimental tools available in Arabidopsis to explore IQDs’ function in orientated organ growth.

In work following on from her PhD, Emma hopes to better understand IQD proteins’ cellular function, particularly relating to cortical microtubule organisation, and whether their function is coordinated by calcium signalling. Her work has also directed investigation into the functional link between IQDs and auxin in early plant organ growth.

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