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Tessa Burch-Smith

Collaborative Cohort FellowBurchSmith

Department of Biochemistry, Cellular & Molecular Biology

Development of a reverse genetic system for studying gene function in Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) plants

Photosynthesis is vital to life, and Tessa Burch-Smith is working to engineer crop plants to perform that process even more efficiently. Crassulacean acid metabolism, also known as CAM photosynthesis is a process employed by plants in the Crassulaceae family, which includes many succulents and dessert dwelling plants.

Burch-Smith’s Collaborative Cohort project is working in conjunction with Dr. Xiaohan Yang, a staff scientist at ORNL. Dr. Yang is investigating the molecular mechanisms behind CAM photosynthesis.

CAM photosynthesis is found in plants that grow in areas with limited water availability, which makes it attractive for scientists seeking to engineer important crops that thrive under those conditions. Dr. Yang’s team members are using their considerable resources to identify key genes that regulate CAM photosynthesis in the Kalanchoe species.

However, once a gene is identified as important, its function has to be tested to demonstrate its importance. Through the Collaborative Cohort program, Burch-Smith will be developing a system to facilitate the study of gene functions by adapting the Tobacco rattle virus virus-silencing system for use in
Kalanchoe. The virus-silencing system takes advantage of a plant’s natural antiviral RNA interference responses to remove the RNA encoded by a gene of interest, effectively knocking down or silencing the expression of that gene.

“By the end of the project I hope to have developed a pipeline for silencing Kalanchoe genes of interest and assessing their roles in CAM photosynthesis,” Burch-Smith says.


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