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Sources: Abbey Laughlin, alaughl@k-state.edu;
and Richard Jeannotte, 785-532-5756, richardj@k-state.edu
Photo available. Contact media@k-state.edu or 785-532-6415.
Video available. Access at http://www.k-state.edu/media/webzine/research/index.html
News release prepared by: Kristin Hodges, 785-532-6415, khodges2@k-state.edu

Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009

K-STATE UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS STUDY THE EFFECTS OF ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS ON PLANT METABOLISM AND HEALTH

MANHATTAN -- Environmental changes causing stress to plants have students at Kansas State University studying plant metabolism so that plant and food production can be maintained or increased in the future.

Abbey Laughlin, sophomore in biology and premedicine, Topeka, is working with Richard Jeannotte, a research associate at the Kansas Lipidomics Research Center at K-State. Laughlin is involved with a project that examines how plant lipids change in response to increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

"As the climate changes, plants will be facing many challenges from environmental factors," Jeannotte said. "Elevated levels of carbon dioxide and ozone gases are known to have important impacts on the physiology and biochemical processes taking place in plants."

Jeannotte said lipids are composed of various classes that are involved in a wide array of functions, including protecting crops and other plants against environmental stresses. Laughlin is studying soybeans and is extracting lipids from the plants to chemically analyze the types and quantities of particular lipids.

"We're looking to see how that plant is going to change in the next 50 or 100 years in response to the atmosphere," she said.

Jeannotte said the effect of environmental stresses on plant metabolism has not been fully investigated. He said the research is critical because of the central importance of lipids in plants.

"Plant health is directly related to human health and survival, and plants also produce economically important products that serve, not only as foods, but as starting materials for the chemical industry," he said.

Laughlin said the project is her first experience in research, and she thinks it will be beneficial because she is planning to attend medical school with a potential focus on research.

"I knew that K-State had a lot of undergraduate research opportunities, and that was a bonus," she said. "It's a great opportunity for learning because there are a lot of things you just can't learn in a lecture, or even in a lab class. This way you get hands-on learning."

Jeannotte said K-State's Kansas Lipidomics Research Center offers lipidomics analysis to more than 100 laboratories worldwide. The center's research is focused on the study of the effects of abiotic and biotic stresses on lipid metabolism in plants by using mass spectrometry-based methods. The center's director, Ruth Welti, said there are many undergraduate students who conduct research in the facility. She said there are three other undergraduates continuing their summer projects this fall:

Joe Bloomfield, senior in biology, Alma, and David Hwang, freshman in music education, Manhattan, are examining how the age of a leaf and its position on the plant affect the composition of the lipids in the leaf. This is important because some lipids are signals that may control the aging process of plants.

Mohammad Sbeih, senior in biochemistry and premedicine, Wichita, is examining the location of oxidized lipids within plant cells. Oxidized lipids may be signals that are involved in how plants respond to environmental cues, including both abiotic signals, such as temperature and drought, and biotic signals, such as a pathogen attack or insect infestation.