Plants comprise the foundation of all living organisms on this planet, a consequence of their exceptional ability to perform photosynthesis. Understanding plants is critical to the survival of the human race, and cytometry has a central role to play in this advancing this understanding. Urgency is increasingly provided given largely uncontrolled growth of the human population, the impact of which is resulting in the ongoing extinction of plant species. My research focuses on the use of cytometry, first, to examine gene expression according to cell type and at the level of single cells, and, second, as a means to provide a complete molecular census of the angiosperms.
The first research area derives from the observation that land plants generally comprise complex multicellular tissues and organs, within which different cell types are interspersed. Analysis of gene expression requires recognition and separation of these different cell types. We have developed cytometric methods to achieve this separation and analysis, and have extended them to non-plant organisms, including mammals.
The second research area reflects the observation that the flowering plants (angiosperms) comprise approximately 500,000 species, including those that are well described and those that are presumed to exist but have not yet been discovered. We have developed methods of cytometry to rapidly and accurately characterize nuclear DNA contents, but so far, only about 1-2% of the angiosperms have been described in this way. We have therefore proposed a road-map aimed at a complete global census of nuclear DNA contents for the angiosperms, and its extension to cover survey sequencing and, ultimately, complete genomic sequencing.
Advances in scientific technologies have greatly facilitated the acquisition of large datasets of molecular and cellular information, to the extent that the biosciences are no longer limited by the process of data acquisition. Instead, rate-limiting steps are increasingly related to experimental design and sample acquisition and preparation, at the front end, and to data storage, transfer, and analysis, at the back end. Solving these issues will become an increasingly important facet of the scientific endeavor, and we are interested in exploring ways that lead to these solutions.