Research Group of Dr. Elison Blancaflor

Research Group of Dr. Elison Blancaflor

From left to right: Julia Dyachok, Neal Teaster, Cheol-Min Yoo, Alan Sparks and Li Quan (all standing) with Avinash Srivastava, Elison Blancaflor and Jin Nakashima.

Dr. Elison Blancaflor is an associate professor at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Oklahoma, USA. The primary research goal of the Blancaflor lab is to understand plant function at the cellular level. They are interested in the mechanisms by which plants sense changes in their environment and how such information is translated into a developmental or growth response.

Elison studied for a BSc at the University of the Philippines, Los Banos, before obtaining an MSc and Ph.D. from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, USA. After completing his Ph.D., Elison did postdoctoral research in Plant Cell Biology at the Pennsylvania State University from 1996 - 1999, before taking his current position at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.

The Blancaflor lab is investigating the regulation of growth directionality and signaling in plants. One of their research aims is to understand the phenomenon of gravitropism in plants. Gravitropism is the directional growth and subsequent developmental patterns that a plant organ exhibits in response to gravity, and this allows for correct anchorage, nutrient and water acquisition, seedling emergence and light absorption for photosynthesis. Elison and his colleagues are particularly interested in the role of the cytoskeleton during gravitropic signaling and in maintaining polarized growth in tip growing plant cells.

Members of the Blancaflor lab are also interested in the involvement of lipids in the regulation of plant development and in defense/stress responses. Plant lipids are important signaling molecules that modulate plant responses to environmental stimuli. Researchers are studying a group of lipid mediators called N-acylethanolamines (NAEs), which are known to have a variety of neurological and physiological roles in animals, but whose precise function in plants is not well understood. The Blancaflor lab aims to define the physiological role of these lipid mediators in plant development, and in response to abiotic/biotic stresses. Their research has suggested that the formation and degradation of NAE is important in mediating the responses of plants to the environment, and that these fatty acid amides play a role in plant stress signaling.

The lab has a strong emphasis on light microscopy of living plant cells (e.g. green fluorescent protein fusions, fluorescent ion indicators and confocal microscopy). They complement this with a variety of biochemical, genetic, genomic and molecular biology techniques. Researchers within the Blancaflor lab use tip growing root hair cells as a model system for studying directional growth control in plants. This is because their well defined shape and location at the surface of the root make them ideal subjects for plant cell biological studies. They currently have a collection of Arabidopsis root hair mutants from a screen of activation tagged lines that have defects in root hair development, including root hairs with altered growth direction. Some of these phenotypes are reminiscent of root hairs that have a disrupted cytoskeleton. They want to characterize this unique collection of mutants to gain a better mechanistic understanding of polarity establishment in plants.

microtubules in Arabidopsis root hair

The image shows the organization of microtubules in Arabidopsis root hair mutants with altered growth direction.

The movie below shows a living root hair cell of the model plant Arabidopsis, expressing a green fluorescent protein (GFP) construct that binds to the microtubule cytoskeleton. This movie was made using the interactive rendering features of Volocity Visualization.  

Elison says “We use Volocity acquisition to drive our Perkin Elmer UltraVIEW spinning disk confocal microscope. We have used this system to acquire time-lapse data sets of cytoskeletal, organelle, and membrane dynamics in living plant cells.  The data we have generated using Volocity has allowed us to better understand how mutations in certain plant genes impact important cellular processes and structures. We will continue to use Volocity to track and analyze the movement of fluorescently tagged cytoskeletal elements and organelles in various Arabidopsis mutants that have altered cellular polarity”. 

To find out more about research in the Blancaflor lab, please visit http://www.noble.org/PlantBio/Blancaflor/index.html