GRAD Alumni Research Award 2014 Recipient: Amanda Socha, MCB

The Dartmouth Graduate Alumni Research Award has been instrumental in my graduate research this year.  In the Guerinot lab, we study how essential nutrients are “eaten” by and stored in plants. For many of the nutrients that we study the only way to visualize their localization in the plant is to use a giant X-ray to conduct Synchrotron X-ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy (SXRF) microanalysis, which allows non-destructive multi-elemental imaging of plant tissues. The support of this award allowed me access to collaborating synchrotron beam lines.

We care about nutrients uptake in plants for two main reasons: humans obtain nutrients from plants and plants need nutrients to thrive. Our ultimate goal is to develop plants that are able to grow in suboptimal environments and to increase the nutrient supply in the edible portions of the plant. Seeds of crop species such as rice are consumed by more than half of the world’s population everyday. However, they are a relatively poor source of essential nutrients. My research hopes to identify the transporters that are necessary for the uptake and distribution of metals micronutrients such as Fe and Mn in the seed.

With the help of this award I was able to travel to the Chicago Advanced Photon source where I imaged microtomograms of seeds from our model system Arabidopsis thaliana. Nutrient localization was visualized during a series of developmental phases (such as embryogenesis and germination) as well as in transporter loss-of-function mutants. Previously, we used SXRF to determine the transporter that is essential for iron storage in the seed, VIT1. Recent results have allowed us to visualize, for the first time, a mutant that disrupts proper manganese localization in the seed. With the increasing human population, there is a need for improvements in crop production and accessibility to plants with high nutritional value. These findings will help us take steps toward improving both food security and human nutrition.