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Jacob Washburn receives grants to study evolution of photosynthesis in grasses

June 3, 2014

Jacob Washburn

Jacob Washburn

Jacob Washburn, a second year graduate student in the Division of Biological Sciences and a Life Sciences Fellow, recently received grants from Mizzou Advantage and the University of Missouri Research Board to study the evolution of photosynthesis in grasses.

Approximately 3 percent of plants use a biochemical pathway known as C4 to carry out photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight into chemical energy. These so-called C4 plants have evolved special cellular structures in their leaves that allow them to fix carbon dioxide from the air – an essential step in the photosynthetic process – more efficiently than plants that use the more common C3 photosynthetic pathway. C4 plants tend to be well adapted to warm and water-limited environments, making C4 photosynthesis a trait of considerable interest to crop breeders and scientists worldwide.

In the grass tribe Paniceae, the C4 photosynthetic pathway has evolved multiple times and in three slightly different forms, or sub-types. Washburn is combining phylogenetic analyses, gene expression studies, and computational modeling to investigate the similarities and differences among these three sub-types within the tribe. He is particularly interested in tracing the evolutionary origins of this diversity and pinpointing genes with importance to each sub-type’s function. Ultimately, his studies will inform efforts to improve current C4 plants, as well as breed or bioengineer C4 photosynthesis into agronomically important C3 plants, like rice.

Washburn carries out this research in the lab of Dr. J. Chris Pires, an associate professor of biological sciences and a principal investigator in the Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center.

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Written by: Melody Kroll

Related research strengths:
Genetics & Genomics, Plant Biology, Quantitative & Computational Biology
Related categories:
Graduate Studies