Graduate Alumni Research Award, Maria Hindt

On January 7, 2014 by Elizabeth Molina-Markham
Synchrotron X-Ray Fluorescence analysis shows there is much more iron (red) in the leaves of the iron-overaccumulating mutant (right) compared to the wild-type plant (left).

Synchrotron X-Ray Fluorescence analysis shows there is much more iron (red) in the leaves of the iron-overaccumulating mutant (right) compared to the wild-type plant (left).

Maria Hindt, PhD student in the Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) Program, is another of this year’s recipients of the Graduate Alumni Research Award. Here she describes her research for the Graduate Forum.

My research focuses on increasing the ability of plants to acquire and store iron in order to increase the amount of this essential micronutrient in the diets of humans. The Graduate Alumni Research Award helped me to study the genome of an iron overaccumulating mutant plant in order to understand how it responds differently to iron than non-mutant plants.

Iron is important for both plant growth and human health. Plants are the major source of human dietary iron, yet are often naturally limited in iron content due to the limited solubility of iron in many soils. As a result, iron deficiency is currently the most common nutritional disorder, affecting over 30 percent of the world’s population. This is especially a problem in developing countries where people consume largely plant-based diets. Thus, it is important to uncover the mechanisms of how plants sense and respond to iron. The insight we gain about how plants maintain iron homeostasis will be useful for the development of a crop species with more dietary iron. Increasing the ability of plants to acquire and store iron, known as “biofortification,” could have significant effects on plant and human nutrition and ultimately offer a solution for iron malnutrition.

In the lab of Professor Mary Lou Guerinot, the model organism for understanding iron homeostasis is a plant called Arabidopsis. We use a genetic approach that includes analysis of mutants with altered growth responses to iron. By studying mutants that have perturbed responses to iron, we seek to understand the basic mechanisms of how plants perceive, accumulate, and store iron.

I am working to characterize the first iron-overaccumulating mutant identified after screening over 10,000 mutant plant lines for increased iron content. With the help of the Graduate Alumni Research Award, I was able to perform a genome-wide analysis of the iron deficiency response in mutant plants. The award funded part of the cost of the DNA microarray experiment.

Analysis of this data is helping me to understand why this mutant is able to accumulate so much iron. The information I am obtaining from these studies will inform future efforts to engineer a crop plant that can grow better on iron deficient soils and contains more dietary iron. This will ultimately lead to improved crop growth, crop yields, and may offer a solution to iron deficiency anemia for people with plant-based diets.

by Maria Hindt

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