Biological Sciences student Jaxon Reiter is spending his summer vacation doing fascinating work with plant genetics. Working with Dr. Elizabeth Schultz, Jaxon is exploring gynoecium development in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana.

The gynoecium is the female floral whorl and is responsible for the plant’s reproduction and pollination. Arabidopsis thaliana, known as the Thale cress, is a small weed in the mustard family that has become popular in plant biology research due to its fast and easy cultivation in lab settings.

Jaxon’s research focuses on auxin transport proteins (PIN proteins) and the role that specific families of these proteins play in the proper development of the plant’s carpels, seed development, and fertilization. Auxin is a plant hormone that is important for almost all growth and development processes, and it is influenced by PIN proteins, which are commonly found throughout the plant kingdom.

He says development processes in Arabidopsis involving these proteins are similar in many other plant species, including several economically significant crop species.

I am focused on a few specific genes that are known to alter PIN protein localization, including SCARFACE and CVP2/CVL1. Using plant lines with loss-of-function mutations in these genes of interest, my goal is to determine the role that these genes may play in the development of the gynoecium, the process of fertilization and seed development, and ultimately the role of auxin and PIN proteins in these processes.

To understand this relationship, Jaxon is performing cross pollination experiments using plants with mutations in specific genes and taking observations on the developmental consequences. He will silence the function of specific genes and observe the localization of PIN proteins and auxin using both molecular and microscopic forms of analysis.

To support his work this summer, Jaxon has been awarded an NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award. This is not his first time working with Dr. Schultz, as Jaxon says he has previously spent time conducting summer research and independent studies with her, and her support has been invaluable.

I have been drawn to her research as a developmental biologist and plant geneticist because I find the work that she is doing to be fascinating. Working with her has exposed me to the immense complexity and intricacies of plant developmental processes, as well as the importance of these processes to our everyday lives, whether it be in agriculture, global sustainability, climate change, etc. I have always been interested in plant genetics and development and found a natural fit working with Dr. Schultz.

Jaxon says being able to gain hands-on, practical research experience has elevated the theoretical backgrounds of his education to an entirely new level, as well as allowing him to explore academic and career options to gain a sense of what he would want to do following his graduation.

I enjoyed getting to know other students and supervisors and to feel supported as a student. Building a relationship with my supervisor has allowed me to excel as a student and reach goals that alone would not have been attainable. I also have enjoyed being able to gain experience working with research that I enjoy.

He adds that the connections he has made with other students and faculty members have provided him with a lot of support, help, and guidance during his education. For anyone interested in pursuing their own research, Jaxon says it’s important to seek research opportunities for yourself by asking professors and other students, in order to find someone who you would be interested in working with.