What got you interested in plants and plant science?
When I was in my high school freshman General Biology class, I learned how a single change in our DNA sequence can cause disorders or phenotypic variance. As part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, I then had the opportunity to write a thesis on any topic, addressing its cultural, economic, governmental, and social facets. Inspired by the genetics I learned during freshman year, I chose to explore genetically modified rice in India. While researching this topic, I became fascinated with agricultural issues that needed to be addressed to achieve food security.
What is your research about?
Coumarins are secondary metabolites that have been extensively studied for their roles in iron mobilization in the soil and induced systemic resistance (ISR), a systemic immune response involving the jasmonic acid and ethylene signaling pathways in the plant. Iron is abundant in the soil, but due to the more soluble ferrous form Fe(II) readily oxidizing to the ferric form Fe(III), it is not easily acquired by plants. It was found that coumarin biosynthesis in Arabidopsis thaliana and its exudation into the rhizosphere in response to iron-limiting conditions shaped the root microbial community and reduced Fe(III), which was subsequently taken up by roots. Additionally, the activation of iron deficiency genes from root-microbe interactions when soils were deficient in iron triggered ISR. I am very interested in studying plant-microbe interactions and nutrient stress from my previous research on nodulation in legumes, so I will study the effects of coumarins on rhizosphere composition and the mechanisms underlying their role in root uptake of iron in Arabidopsis and dry beans.
What is the potential societal impact of your research?
Iron deficiency is a prevalent health issue due to inadequate access to food rich in this mineral, especially in developing countries. There is an increasing need to meet human nutritional needs through sustainable means, due to the rising human population and climate change. I chose legumes to study coumarins, iron uptake, and the root microbiome because they are known for their health and sustainable agriculture benefits with their ability to fix nitrogen, for example.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
My ultimate career goal is to become a researcher with extension duties in a non-profit organization in developing or rural areas. Based on my interest in learning about different cultures and on past projects I have done on nodulation, I would like to study legumes or underutilized crops.
On a Saturday afternoon, you'll likely find me:
Reading and going to farmer’s markets.