Experiments Hudson and Savka are designing explore a bacterial communication system known as "quorum sensing"or when small molecules act like genetic switches turning on bacterial growth and regulating its pathogenicity. Quorum sensing begins when bacteria grow and produce small molecules until a threshold population is met. With its army in place and ready for orders, the small molecule regulates a coordinated cellular response by the bacteria.
"The bacteria can be coordinated to destroy the plant by producing enzymes that degrade cellulose, lignins or other structures that are important for plant growth and development," Hudson says.
Quorum sensing is Savka's long-term interest and complements Hudson's focus on enhancing nitrogen metabolism in plants.
Hudson studies the genome of the bacterium Enterobacter, an endophyteor an organism that lives inside a plantto identify proteins involved in plant growth and development, and which might improve biomass for biofuel production.
Savka and Hudson are looking at Enterobacter to determine if the bacterium uses quorum sensing to coordinate activity and whether it is pathogenic to the plant, in addition to its potential role in nitrogen fixation. They are creating genetic mutants of the bacterium to identify genes involved in quorum sensing. Their work is partially supported by a National Science Foundation grant awarded to Hudson.
"The majority of my family works in the sugar industry in Jamaica," Hudson says. "There are a lot of countries where sugarcane is vital to the economy, like Brazil and India. They do a lot of research, but not so much in Jamaica because it's a third-world country and it doesn't have a lot of the scientific infrastructure. But it has the same problems. I am hoping to find new genes for nitrogen metabolis
|Contact: Susan Gawlowicz|
Rochester Institute of Technology