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Using Plant Hormones to Program Multicelled Systems

11/18/2010

Using Plant Hormones to Program Multicelled Systems

11/18/2010

Investigator Team: Dr. Jennifer Nemhauser and Dr. Eric Klavins
Institution: University of Washington
Project Title: Using Plant Hormones to Program Multicelled Systems
Award Amount: $1.4 million (2010)

Trillions of individual cells are coordinated in multicelled organisms to perform complex functions such as chemical processing, movement, and even the processes of thought. Each cell can send and receive a variety of signals and act on the received information to play the appropriate role within the whole. Although examples abound in nature, engineering complex multicelled systems to desired specifications is not currently possible. These Allen Distinguished Investigators have devised a project inspired by two interconnected questions: (1) How do cells process information (such as where they are within the organism, what is happening in their environment), and (2) Can we use biological parts and cellular logic to engineer new systems with useful behaviors (such as generating new organs, making fuel). Specifically, this research project is reverse-engineering responses to the plant hormone auxin – central to nearly every aspect of higher plant life and evolution – into baker's yeast. Yeast is a single-celled genetic powerhouse that facilitates rapid, quantitative assays on the behavior of individual cells over time. Once the auxin system is rebuilt in yeast, researchers will learn to program with it. The results will provide new tools for engineering multicelled systems and also generate models for how and why auxin is used so effectively by plants