Office of Research Plant Stress - Office of Research

Plant Stress

Plant Stress

The Challenge

In the near future, population increases combined with climate change are expected to place unprecedented demands on agriculture.

Plant Stress

Why It Is Important

Developing crop varieties to cope with stress under unpredictable climate conditions will require a nuanced understanding of genetic responses to environmental changes.  Additionally, valuable water and fertilizer must be efficiently triaged to those plants facing the greatest deficit of resources.

Our Approach

We will study responses to drought, salinity, and nitrogen and phosphorous deprivation in tomato, the second most valuable vegetable crop in California and worldwide. Using RNA expression profiling to identify those genes most responsive to environmental stresses not only in domesticated tomato, but also its wild relatives, which may harbor sensitized responses to environmental change.

We will develop high throughput methods to measure biochemical markers of stress, including remote multi-spectral sensing, thermal imaging, and stereo reconstruction.  Additionally, we will analyze changes in the development and morphology of organs using Micro Computed Tomography to image the meristem and observe changes in leaves from their inception. We will direct our understanding of stress response towards the creation of genetically engineered tomato varieties that, from the outset of specific stresses, will visibly express a reporter, changing the color or structure of the plant.  Such “sentinel” plants will allow the application of water and fertilizer as needed, rather than broadcasting these resources on potentially wasteful schedules.

Impacts & Highlights

  • The Maloof and Sinha labs performed a second round of RNA sequencing under control and stress conditions to be able to examine year-to year variance (and consistency).
  • A striking finding is that there are extensive differences in the mechanism for nutrient deprivation, raising the possibility of combining mechanisms for improvement in future plants.
  • Indicator plats have been generated using the promoter of the P sensing gene Solyc03g098010 P2-GFP and the N sensing gene Solyc09g091510. Transgenic plants are in hand and seed is being collected for the F2 plants that will be tested for indicator activity.
  • The Slaughter lab has continued their refinement of the design of their high-throughput platform for in-field phenotyping of annual crops. Design improvements resulted in improved performance of the accuracy of the phenotype measurements and in the throughput rate.


Nelson Max Professor of Computer Science
Julin Maloof Professor of Plant Biology
David Slaughter Professor of Biological & Agricultural Engineering
Jinyi Qi Professor of Biomedical Engineering
Neelima Sinha Professor of Plant Biology
Brad Townsley Postdoc of Plant Biology
Thuy Tuong Nguyen Postdoc of Biological & Agricultural Engineering
Leonela Carriedo Graduate Student of Plant Biology
Marina Doherty Graduate Student of Computer Science & Engineering
Robert Rider Undergraduate Student of Genetics
Jason Kao Undergraduate Student of Biological Sciences
Vivian Vuong Undergraduate Student of Biological & Agricultural Engineering
Matthew Paddock Undergraduate Student of Biological & Agricultural Engineering
Joshua Munic Undergraduate Student of Biological & Agricultural Engineering

For more information on this program, please contact Christine Parks [email protected].