Synthetic genetic circuits are powerful tools for reprogramming the behavior of living organisms. We are developing synthetic genetic circuits to control gene expression in plants. We are leveraging these circuits to modify the spatiotemporal expression patterns of gene expression in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. The resulting synthetic circuits are then applied to change the plant's growth and behavior.
Structural features of a plant contribute to it's ability to survive in challenging environments. For example, the size and shape of a plant’s root system influences its ability to reach essential nutrients in the soil or to acquire water during drought. Progress in engineering plant roots to optimize water and nutrient acquisition has been limited by our capacity to design and build genetic programs that alter plant development in a predictable manner. Key to reprogramming development is precise control over spatial patterns of gene expression. We using synthetic gene circuits to express developmental regulators in patterns that modify plant development and change the size and shape of plant organs, such as roots, shoots, leaves, and seeds.
Plants do not grow in isolation. Much like human microbiota, the bacteria that live in and around plants affect their health. We are developing tools that enable the engineering of undomesticated soil bacteria and are applying them to create designer probiotics that enhance plant growth in challenging environments.