October 3, 2019 | By: Katie Pratt
Lexington, Ky.

Larger seeds can lead to higher yielding crops. A University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment researcher is studying how seed size is determined at the molecular level to better understand plant reproductive processes and cellular biology and, ultimately, help grain producers increase their yields.

Seeds are comprised of an embryo, endosperm and seed coat that communicate with each other to determine seed size. Tomokazu Kawashima, an assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and his lab members have determined a protein, filamentous actin, also known as F-actin, plays an important role in the early development of the endosperm and in determining seed size. Through live-cell imaging, he was able to see the protein appearing to organize the movement and position of nuclei of the endosperm in this early development stage. Using transgenic techniques, Kawashima was able to manipulate the protein during this stage and change the seed size.

His current research project, which is funded by a nearly $650,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Integrative Organismal Systems, will further delve into the cellular interactions that are occurring at this crucial development period.

“We will use live cell imagining, genetics and biochemical approaches to better understand the relationship between early-stage endosperm development and subsequent seed characteristics, such as size,” Kawashima said.

The project also contains a significant Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, STEM, educational outreach component. Kawashima will provide lab opportunities for young scientists including one high school student from the Carter G. Woodson Academy in Fayette County and three UK undergraduates. He will also teach a UK 100-level class for students who are not necessarily majoring in a STEM-related field to expose them to agriculture, genetic engineering and seed development.

Contact: 

Tomokazu Kawashima, 859-257-2715

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