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Major Scientific Interests: Adaptation processes, plant growth, genetic diversity, natural variations, light conditions, shade avoidance syndrome, plant biology, climate change, growth hormone auxin, phytochromes, brassinosteroids
Joanne Chory’s work has contributed to the identification of plant hormones. She investigates the natural variations in plant species and plant reactions to different light and temperature conditions. Her studies have helped us understand how plants adapt to climate change.
Individual members of the same plant species often thrive in very different environmental conditions. The model plant used by plant geneticists, thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), grows in many parts of the world – from northern Scandinavia to Central Africa. Chory’s team is researching the plant’s natural variants, searching for molecular clues to this adaptation process in the DNA. Her laboratory has made a significant contribution to decoding three important plant hormones. For example, she and her colleagues explained the previously unknown process of how plants produce the important growth hormone auxin.
Chory used thale cress to explain the well-known phenomenon of shade avoidance syndrome. Light-sensitive proteins in plants, called phytochromes, constantly measure ambient light conditions. If the plant’s surroundings are too crowded and shady, processes enabling it to shoot up quickly are activated. With the help of gene analyses, Chory’s team were able to localise growth genes that are responsible for shade avoidance syndrome. She also discovered that plants’ reactions to light conditions are controlled by genetic variations. These variations make plants in northern countries more light-sensitive than those at the equator. Chory’s analyses have also shown that a process involving many different interactions, rather than a linear signal transfer, is responsible for reactions to light conditions.
Chory’s laboratory also decoded the molecular signal chain of other hormones that help plants thrive. Brassinosteroids influence the activity of genes that control cell ageing processes as well as plant growth. Through additional research on brassinosteroids, Chory and her team hope to learn even more about the mechanism of plant growth and to find out how changes in the environment influence growth.
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