Max’s research projects aim to understand the basis of stem development and growth and how the environment influences this.
Stem development begins within a region of the shoot apical meristem called the rib meristem (RM) and is one of the least understood aspects of plant development, despite its importance in crop productivity.
The mechanical strength of a stem affects the likelihood that the plant will collapse in strong winds and rain, which for a cereal plant will lead to a reduced grain yield. An interplay between orientated cell divisions in the RM and directed cell growth in the sub-RM region, determines the height and diameter of the stem, both of which are determinants of mechanical strength.
Insights into the genetic interactions that regulate cell division and growth in the apical stem, will provide a better understanding of how to breed crops with selected stem architectures.
Max has used Genome-Wide Analysis to map the genetic variation inherent in 250 Arabidopsis natural ecotypes to identify potential new genes involved in stem architecture. CRISPR-cas9 gene-editing and TDNA-insertional mutants can then be used to study the effect of the non-functional alleles in stem growth.
Improvement in crop yields over the foreseeable future to provide food supplies for the increasing human population, will be necessary to compensate for the sub-optimal growing conditions of an increasingly dynamic climate. Understanding how model plants such as Arabidopsis can adapt to a changing environment, will help in the breeding of crops that are more productive over a wider range of environmental conditions. Along these lines, Max is starting to look at the effects of temperature on meristem size and how this affects stem growth.
Max also plays a supportive and organisational role in Robert Sablowski’s lab to help his colleagues in their research on the developmental genetics and cell biology of the Arabidopsis meristem and organ primordia. To achieve this, he uses a wide range of techniques including GoldenGate cloning, CRISPR-cas9, PCR genotyping, confocal microscopy and image analysis of digital photographs.