Zinc is an essential micronutrient in plants and used in many proteins to enable them to carry out their function.
However, having too little available zinc in the soil is very common and is the most widespread micronutrient deficiency. This zinc deficiency then leads to limitation of crop yields, and reduced zinc intake by humans.
How plants sense the lack of zinc in the soil and details into how they respond to this are not fully understood. Therefore, Thomas will be undertaking a genetic screen in Arabidopsis thaliana to reveal new components of how plants respond to zinc limitation.
In order to respond to low zinc, plant upregulate a number of metal transporters, which transport not only zinc but also manganese and iron. In order to understand why these metal transporters are upregulated Thomas will be investigating their metal transport capabilities and what governs their activity.
The movement of zinc through transporters has also been implicated in the metabolism of auxin, a plant hormone, and so how this auxin metabolism is influenced by zinc transport will also be researched.
Finally, Thomas is using genetically encoded zinc-specific Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) sensors to explore how the zinc concentration in different subcellular compartments changes in different conditions.