Summary of my work
Small silencing RNAs (sRNAs) have emerged as key factors in gene regulatory networks in eukaryotes. As the most important class of sRNAs, microRNAs (miRNAs) in plants have been extensively studied in their sequencing, biogenesis and effector pathways; however, the exact physiological roles of miRNAs, especially of the non-conserved and species-specific miRNAs, are elusive to date. Moreover, plants have evolved hundreds of miRNAs for precise target gene modulation, but the regulatory networks between the anciently- and newly-evolved miRNAs are not clear. Our research interests are focused on the mechanisms of action and biological significance of non-conserved miRNAs in plants. We attempt to reveal how non-conserved miRNAs are produced and what regulatory roles they may have during plant development as well as in response to biotic and abiotic stresses. Also, we are interested in miRNA upstream and downstream modulatory networks in plants. Our research will provide the molecular basis for crop bioengineering breeding via manipulation of non-coding RNAs.
Microrchidia (MORC) family proteins in plants have been shown to be involved in transcriptional gene silencing as well as immunity. However, whether MORC proteins participate in plant pathogen defense via epigenetic regulation is unknown. While at Cornell, working in Dr. Daniel Klessig’s grous at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, my research project is on identification of MORC interacting proteins and characterization of MORC-affected sRNAs from microbe-infected plants. Our research aims to understand how plants regulate immunity through gene silencing and chromatin remodeling.
Impacts in China
As a country with the world’s largest population, China must produce high-quantity, high-quality and safety crops to keep pace with the increasing food needs. Because the arable land and water resource have been decreasing, biotechnology becomes more and more important for the development of advanced agriculture. To improve crop yield and quality and to protect crops against disease, we must understand the molecular basis for plants development, plant responses to abiotic disadvantages and immunity to pathogen attack. RNA interference (RNAi) in plants plays important roles in diverse biological processes, such as developme; nt, stress tolerance, antiviral defense, as well as genome stabilization. Our studies on RNA silencing and epigenetics in cereals are to better understand how crops accurately regulate agronomic gene expressions when they are subject to adverse environments. These basic researches will contribute to development of biotechnology to accelerate crop breeding processes and improve agriculture in the future.