Maud Walsh, Swoope, Elizabeth A.
The overall goal of coastal plants genetics program is to generate knowledge and technology to accelerate development of improved plant materials in native plant species for coastal restoration. The program encompasses a wide range of basic and applied research activities conducted in the Coastal Plants Genetics Laboratory using novel genetics, genomics and biotechnology tools. Research is conducted in four different plant species: Smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), Sea oats (Uniola paniculata), Black mangrove (Avicennia germinans), and weedy red rice (Oryza sativa). We explore the hereditary information of the native plants to improve the current state of understanding of several key attributes such as abiotic stress tolerance, seed shattering, and seed dormancy which could help in further genetic manipulation leading to development of improved plant materials for large scale restoration effort.
We conduct research in the following areas:
Adequate genetic diversity in native plant species is necessary to improve the health, longevity, and productivity of coastal marshes. The practice of clonal reproduction contributes to decline in genetic diversity. Genetic diversity is studied in both smooth cordgrass and sea oats using different types of molecular markers. Molecular markers are also under development to aid in marker assisted breeding as well as for DNA fingerprinting of ready to be released clones/varieties in native plants.
Abiotic stresses continue to be a major hindrance in growth and development of native plants in coastal areas. Among different types of abiotic stresses, salinity and drought stresses are frequently experienced in coastal marshes. Our interest is to clone genes involved in different stress tolerance mechanisms from the Spartina alterniflora to help development of improved plant materials in coastal plants.
Production of sea oats plants in large numbers has been a challenge for restoration project managers due to poor seed set, poor seed germination, and seed dormancy. Large scale multiplication of sea oats seedlings through development of an efficient micropropagation technology offers an attractive alternative to accelerate the restoration projects.
Restoration and reclamation of coastal marshes can be both economically and efficiently achieved through aerial seeding technology. However, seed dormancy and seed shattering in smooth cordgrass are two important bottlenecks for bulk seed harvesting and storage. We are using red rice model to address these two attributes at molecular level. Due to close relationship of Spartina alterniflora with Oryza sativa, application of comparative genomics approach will open up unique opportunities for suitable manipulation of those traits in smooth cordgrass.