Plant MicroRNA Evolution and Mechanisms of Shape Change in Plants

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Plant MicroRNA Evolution and Mechanisms of Shape Change in Plants

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Title: Plant MicroRNA Evolution and Mechanisms of Shape Change in Plants
Author: Puzey, Joshua Robert
Citation: Puzey, Joshua Robert. 2012. Plant MicroRNA Evolution and Mechanisms of Shape Change in Plants. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Plant microRNAs have been shown to have important roles in regulating diverse processes ranging from reproductive development to stress response. In the first two chapters, I focus on miRNA diversity in Aquilegia studying both anciently evolved broadly conserved and rapidly evolving species specific miRNAs. In chapter one, I utilize Aquilegia's critical phylogenetic position between the well developed models Arabidopsis thaliana and Oryza sativa to study the evolution of ancient miRNAs across the angiosperms. In chapter two, I utilize smallRNA high-throughput sequencing to annotate Aquilegia specific miRNAs and, in the process, uncover the novel regulation of a floral homeotic gene by an Aquilegia-specific miRNA. In chapter three, I look at the tissue specific development of miRNA regulation in the bioenergetically relevant model organism Populus trichocarpa. High-throughput smallRNA sequencing from four diverse tissue sets including leaves, xylem, mechanically treated xylem, and pooled vegetative and reproductive tissues were analyzed, revealing a total of 155 previously unannotated miRNAs, most of which are P. trichocarpa specific. Expanding on my work with the petal identity pathway, I turned a broader analysis of Aquilegia petal spurs. Petal spurs are the distinguishing characteristic of Aquilegia and are argued to be a key innovation in the adaptive radiation of the genus. In the fourth chapter, I explore the cellular basis of extreme spur length diversity in the genus and find that a single parameter, cell shape, can explain this morphological range. Next, I seek to describe the cellular patterns that give rise to a spur primoridia from an initially flat laminar petal and find that spur initiation is characterized by concentrated, prolonged, and oriented cell divisions. Inspired by this quantitative analysis of growth, chapter five looks at the mechanisms of shape change in cucumber tendrils. I find that anisotropic contraction of a multi-layered gelatinous fiber ribbon explains coiling in cucumbers. Surprisingly, we discover that tendrils display twistless-overwinding when pulled and exhibit an unforeseen force-extension response as a result. These results provide the design basis for twistless springs with tunable mechanical responses and serve as a clear example of how the biological systems can inspire applied mechanical designs.
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