Project Description: 

Plants are constantly fixing carbon through photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is a significant process mediated by leaves through which plants acquire energy. As a result, plants invest in leaves in expectation of higher return on investments from photosynthesis during the leaf’s lifespan. Because leaves are by far the main focus of herbivory as well as sites of infection by microorganisms, plants have evolved to mitigate leaf damage in order to maintain leaf longevity. One way to mitigate damage is through the release of exudates of which latex is the most common form. Latex is stored in specialized living tissues called laticifers. Laticifers follow the venation network system of leaves. However their concentration and spread vary depending on their architecture. Despite laticifer forming an important component of plant internal network, studies linking laticifer emergence and venation networks and how they influence plant defense are lacking, in particular across taxa (clades). Therefore our understanding of the relationship between latex, laticifers and venation networks in plant defense is limited and needs more depth.

In this project, we will test if latex reinforce other types of defense? for e.g. do plants with latex have other types of defense characteristics like looping or higher vein density? Is there a tradeoff between latex presence and vein defense traits where plants that produce latex should have reduced vein density, reticulation and looping compared to plants without latex? We have already measured other defense traits (mechanical) across a wide taxa of 90 species from UC Botanical garden, Berkeley. Our objective is to compare latex and non latex bearing plants for species within the same clades to determine if latex presence reinforces certain defense strategies (HLD metrics and the other vein stats will be used). Visualization of the spatial patterns of laticifers (microwave assisted technique) and venation networks (Matlab) will also be obtained to determine how closely they follow each other. Knowledge from this study will provide critical understanding of the role of latex in plant defense strategies.

Undergraduate's Role: 

We will hire one  undergraduate students to specifically work on:

1. Preparing leaf for visualising latificifer glands;

2. Obtaining latex exudates from leaves with different venation network architecture;

3. Extracting leaf venation and laticifer gland pathways using image processing software (ImageJ/GIMP/Matlab);

iv. Use statistical analysis using R software tool.

The overall outcome will lead to students developing skills in leaf vein segmentation and visualisation, image processing and computational data analysis. Students will have the chance to work independently to boost their confidence in scientific thinking skills. In addition to field work data collection, students will familiarise themselves with the lab work environment (vein treatment for visualisation). Additionally, students will be welcomed to engage in weekly lab meeting activities organized by the Macrosystem Ecology Lab e.g. research presentations, paper discussions, orientation sessions, lab socials.

Undergraduate's Qualifications: 

Candidates must show a strong motivation to work in the field and laboratory with chemical and imaging analysis. Attention to detail and organization skills are required. Prior experience in processing images and/or managing large datasets is desirable, but not required. Biology major is preferred.

On Campus
9-12 hours
Project URL: