Hageman Distinguished Lecturer in Agricultural Biochemistry

Elizabeth Vierling

Dr. Elizabeth Vierling

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
University of Arizona, Tucson
Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

October 24-25, 2007

Lecture: "S-Nitrosoglutathione reductase: A new player in nitrosative stress"

Colloquium: "Genes and gene networks in the response of plants to high temperature"

About the speaker

Heat stress is commonly a limiting factor for crop production in Kansas, even when water is not in short supply. If we could understand how heat injures plants, and engineer greater heat resistance, production of major crops could rise by a significant fraction. Therefore it was exciting when specific proteins were observed to be induced rapidly and directly by heat, and only, heat stress.

Elizabeth Vierling has had an abiding interest in heat stress proteins (Hsps) since her time as a post-doctoral fellow with Joe L. Key at the University of Georgia. Her pioneering work on several classes of small heat shock proteins (sHsps) showed that they have different sizes and different organelle locations. Most of the sHsps are specific to plants, unlike the large Hsps that are found to be very similar in procaryotes and eucaryotes. In Arabidopsis, there are more than a dozen sHsps in six classes, based on location and sequence similarity. The sHsps are distantly related to alpha crystallin of the vertebrate eye.

Dr. Vierling obtained a B.S. in Botany from University of Michigan where she entered as a Merit Scholar, and then the M.S. and PhD in Biology at the University of Chicago where she worked on chlorophyll binding proteins of the photosynthetic reaction centers. Her work with Joe Key was a logical transition, looking at the heat stabilization of Rubisco, another essential photosynthetic protein, production of which is dependent on Hsps. Since joining the University of Arizona, she has continued to discover and study both sHsps and HSP100 proteins. She has published 75 or so papers on the Hsps. More recently transcription factors controlling expression of the Hsps have been of interest. An important finding is that there are seed-specific factors that induce sHsps and which appear to protect ungerminated seeds from high temperature. They may also affect seed longevity. Unraveling the control networks for this process is a major challenge. This year's colloquium will focus on such control networks.

Dr. Vierling has served as an editor for JBC, Plant Physiology, Plant Molecular Biology, and Plant Journal, as a member of the executive committee of the ASPP, and as organizer of Keystone and Gordon conferences. In 2004 she was panel manager for the USDA competitive grants on plant responses to environment. She had sabbatical leaves with Gerald Fink at the Whitehead Institute in Boston, with M. Koorneef in Wageningen (as a Guggenheim Fellow), and currently with Mark Stitt at the Max Planck Insitute in Golm, Germany, as an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow.

Heat stress is only one kind of stress that plants experience. Reactive oxygen and nitrogen species may be viewed as both consequences and causes of the stress response. Interestingly, nitrosylation may regulate photosynthetic reactions centers. This year's Hageman lecture focuses on control of one molecule- RSNO- that is a redox responsive signal.