Current Cell + Molecular Biology Faculty
My research focuses on understanding the regulation of gene expression in response to abiotic stresses at the transcriptional and post-transcriptional levels including chromatin modifications, pre-mRNA splicing and small noncoding RNAs.
The work in my laboratory centers on reproductive barriers between higher plant species, in particular between species of wild tomatoes. We are examining the molecular and cellular nature of inter-specific reproductive barriers (IRB).
My research focuses on sugar and amino acid allocation from sites of primary assimilation to import-dependent sinks in plants. This is a fundamental process that allows plants to function as multi-cellular organisms. We use molecular, genetic and biochemical tools to define the mechanisms and regulation of this essential process. Recently, as part of this work, we discovered a unique transcription factor that when expressed out of context, increases yields by 3-fold. We're currently focused on understanding how this happens.
The embryonic heart begins pumping blood even before the cardiac organ is fully formed. Our group is interested in the genetic and biomechanical factors that contribute to normal heart development. We use the zebrafish model to study how the initial heart tube transitions into a rhythmic, efficient multi-chambered organ. Our approaches include quantitative live imaging, developmental genetic techniques, and modern genomic tools.
My research combines my expertise in exercise and skeletal muscle physiology with molecular techniques to focus on oxygen metabolism; especially on the control and regulation of skeletal and cardiac muscle adaptations to extreme environmental conditions such as hypoxia. The ultimate goal is to enhance our understanding of molecular changes associated with hypoxia and translate these results for therapeutic applications in the treatment of myopathies.
We work on Plant Synthetic Biology. Synthetic Biology is forward engineering of biological organisms for specific purposes both basic and applied. On the basic side, we are using synthetic biology to understand complex natural processes such as signal transduction and pattern formation. We are using synthetic biology to produce new types of plants and plant traits such as highly specific plant detectors, plants producing biofuels and plant that do useful things for humans and the environment
I am interested in three fundamental questions in evolutionary biology: (1) How do genomes evolve, particularly those at the extremes of genome size? (2) How do transposable elements shape genome biology and evolution? (3) How does genome size impact phenotype and the evolutionary trajectories of lineages?
I study the regulation of molting and limb regeneration in decapod crustaceans using molecular biological, transcriptomic, and proteomic methods. I am also Director of the University Honors Program (http://www.honors.colostate.edu).
My primary interests lie in the fields of photosynthesis and algal eco-physiology. In particular, I’m interested in the diversity of mechanisms that algae use to protect themselves from too much light and other abiotic stresses.
My lab investigates how the photosynthetic machinery in plants acquires the essential metal cofactors copper and iron. These metal ions are required for photosynthesis and thus plant productivity, yet they are toxic at too high concentrations. We use genetics together with whole plant physiology, cell and molecular biology and biochemistry in the model plant Arabidopsis to unravel the regulation of copper delivery and the assembly of iron-sulfur clusters in proteins.
In the Pilon-Smits lab we are interested in processes by which plants accumulate and detoxify environmental pollutants, as well as in ecological and evolutionary aspects of selenium hyperaccumulation. We study these processes from the molecular level to the field. Our approaches include genomics, genetics, biotechnology, biochemistry, whole-plant physiology, and ecological studies. These studies are aimed to gain knowledge about basic biological processes, but have applications for the use of plants for environmental cleanup or as fortified foods.
One of the fundamental questions in plant biology is how plants sense and respond to environmental (abiotic and biotic) and hormonal signals that regulate diverse cellular processes and various aspects of plant growth and development. Our group has been studying i) calcium-mediated signal transduction mechanisms with emphasis on calcium sensors and their target proteins, ii) mechanisms that regulate basic and alternative splicing of pre-messenger RNAs in response to stresses, iii) disease resistance, iv) cell wall degrading enzymes for biofuel production and iv) synthetic signal transduction circuits in plants. We use molecular, cell biological, genetic, biochemical, bioinformatics and computational tools to accomplish our research goals. Arabidopsis, maize, potato and Miscanthus are used in our research. Studies on computational aspects of alternative splicing and protein-protein interactions are being done in collaboration with Asa Ben-Hur in the Department of Computer Science at CSU (http://www.cs.colostate.edu/~asa/projects.html).
My research investigates the evolutionary forces that create diversity in genome size, structure, and function. I am particularly interested in the evolution of so-called "resident genomes" that exist inside the cells of another organism, including those of mitochondria and plastids in eukaryotes and endosymbiotic bacteria in many insects. Much of my current work focuses on how these resident genomes co-evolve with the host genome.
Recombination nodules (RNs) are ellipsoidal particles lying on the central element of the synaptonemal complex (SC) during zygotene and pachytene of meiosis in eukaryotic organisms. RNs seem to reside at the sites of reciprocal recombination events in late pachytene nuclei. We are studying the temporal development, spatial distribution, and biochemistry of RNs and SCs.