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Plant cell growth studies funded by NSF grant at UMass Amherst
Date:1/14/2014

AMHERST, Mass. Plant cell biologist Magdalena Bezanilla at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has received a four-year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to further her award-winning research on fundamental processes of plant growth, in particular how molecules secreted by cells help to determine their outer shapes and patterns.

"Think of it as the difference between building a short round adobe house and a long, tall steel skyscraper. The shapes are very different in part because of the material that's used and its original shape," she explains. "This new grant will help us explore how the cell controls delivery of new building blocks of the extracellular matrix. In plants it's a bunch of carbohydrates that form the cell wall and contribute to its function within a leaf, a stem or root."

"In animals, secretion of extracellular matrix may lead to the formation of bone or an outer shell, for example, but because only a subset of cell types build these complex structures in a single organism, it can be difficult to study these processes in animals. But in plants, all cells build a wall. We don't need to isolate specialized cell groups, so it is easier to study this in plants," the biologist notes.

All cells, whether plant or animal, use the same secretion process to pattern their parts and create their extracellular environment, Bezanilla explains. "So whatever we learn from these studies, we can see the parallels in other organisms. It's the beauty of biology that you can look for parallels in simpler systems and begin to gain an understanding of these processes in more complex ones."

Bezanilla says scientists have known for decades that proteins such as actin are important in cell-shaping processes, but exactly what they do and how they do it are not well understood. "The big question is, what is it about actin that is helping to control cell shape? In these studies we will address the role of actin i
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Contact: Janet Lathrop
jlathrop@admin.umass.edu
413-545-0444
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Source:Eurekalert  

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