K-State Researcher's Work Aids In Study of Plant Stress

Work with lipids helps scientists figure out how to help plants withstand heat and cold stress; attack by pathogens

Published on: Nov 2, 2012

A Kansas State University professor's research analyzing lipids is helping scientists around the world understand plant responses and develop better crops that can withstand environmental stress.

To support her collaborative work, Ruth Welti, university distinguished professor of biology, recently received a grant of more than $440,000 from the National Science Foundation's Major Research Instrumentation program. The grant -- with matching funds from the university -- will be used to purchase the most advanced mass spectrometer for the Kansas Lipidomics Research Center, which Welti directs.

Heat and cold stress

The new instrument will help Welti and other researchers study plant responses to heat and cold stress, plant infection by pathogens, and the development of plants and seeds, including seed oil production.

"We are trying to understand the basis for the way plants respond to stresses so the information can be used to improve crop plants," Welti said. "We want to obtain global information on plant responses and see how it relates to plant genotype."
"We are trying to understand the basis for the way plants respond to stresses so the information can be used to improve crop plants," Welti said. "We want to obtain global information on plant responses and see how it relates to plant genotype."

"We are trying to understand the basis for the way plants respond to stresses so the information can be used to improve crop plants," Welti said. "We want to obtain global information on plant responses and see how it relates to plant genotype."

Co-principal investigators on the grant include Kathrin Schrick, assistant professor of biology, and Timothy Durrett, assistant professor of biochemistry. The instrument coordinator will be Mary Roth, analytical laboratory manager for the center.

The new spectrometer will enable the researchers to better identify and quantify lipids, which are nonwater-soluble compounds that are found in all living cells and form cell membranes, store energy and serve as messengers. For one of the spectrometer's major projects, the scientists are studying Arabidopsis thaliana, a plant species that is a good model for a number of crop species, particularly closely related species such as canola.

"The information we gather in Arabidopsis can be translated into crop plants," Welti said. "We want to be able to improve plants so they can withstand environmental stresses better. That way, when we have a summer like this last one with a lot of extra heat, crops will be better able to withstand it."