Plant Biotechnology-Dr. Michael Persans
In the Persans lab, the students will have research project options which include: investigations into the mechanisms of tolerance of metal hyperaccumulator plants to heavy metals and the study of the mycorrhizal associations that bacteria and fungi have with the roots of metal hyperaccumulator plants. The main topics of research in my lab are: the isolation and characterization of genes involved in heavy metal tolerance in plants, the oxidative stress caused by heavy metals in plants, and the use of remote sensing to monitor environmental pollution caused by heavy metals using plants as a model indicator organism.
The tolerance of plants to heavy metal toxicity (Nickel and Copper) is one of the projects in the lab that students can participate in. By understanding the mechanisms by which heavy metals are tolerated, a possible scheme could be devised for the phytoremediation of heavy metals. In addition, plants genetically engineered to hyperaccumulate large amounts of heavy metals could be used for phytoremediation purposes to clean up toxic sites which may be health threats. Heavy metals also cause oxidative stress in addition to the other damaging mechanisms they possess. Understanding how hyperaccumulator plants tolerate this oxidative stress is an essential component in the engineering of a practical phytoremediation plant.
The research topics available to students are multidisciplinary in that not only do the students learn about plant cell and molecular biology, but they also learn many techniques in supporting fields such as biochemistry, analytical chemistry, instrumental analysis, and plant tissue culture that are necessary for the execution of the broader experiments in plant biology.
Agricultural Remote Sensing - Dr. K. Rod Summy
Undergraduate and/or graduate students working under the supervision of Dr. K. Rod Summy, UTPA, will participate in research designed to evaluate the effects of heavy metal accumulation (particularly arsenic) on spectral reflectance by foliage of selected native plant species. The objective of this research will be to assess the feasibility of using spectral reflectance by foliage of certain “indicator” plant species as reliable evidence of heavy metal contamination, and using multispectral color-infrared (CIR) and/or hyperspectral imagery to map the extent of such contamination. Procedures will involve collection of spectral data for control (untreated) and treatment plants (exposed to varying levels of the heavy metal in question) using a spectroradiometer sensitive to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) ranging from ultraviolet (300-350 nm) through the near-infrared region (700-1,100 nm). Spectral curves for controls and treatments will be evaluated by subjecting reflectance data at selected wavelengths to analysis of variance (ANOVA) and means separation tests.
In addition, conventional color (RGB) and CIR imagery will be acquired for treatments and controls, and digital numbers for each will be compared using ANOVA and other standard statistical procedures. In addition, image enhancement techniques such as ratio imagery (e.g., NIR/Red ratios for each pixel in imagery) will be used in efforts to detect subtle differences in reflectance (by treatments vs controls) that may not be evident with conventional imagery.
These studies are expected to clarify the feasibility of using common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and other native plant species as “indicators” of contamination by arsenic and/or other heavy metals at a particular geographic location, and of detecting such contamination by use of conventional remote sensing technology. Students participating in these studies will receive hands-on training in common remote sensing techniques, the use of sophisticated image processing software, and the design, analysis and interpretation of experiments based on remote sensing technology.