My lab studies genes and signals in cells that regulate the growth and shape of plants. We have discovered several genes that control plant architecture by exerting an influence on stem cells. By identifying the genes that control the number of stem cells in corn plants, for example, we’ve discovered a means of boosting the yield of that vital staple.
David Jackson and colleagues study genes and signals that regulate plant growth and architecture. They are investigating a unique way in which plant cells communicate, by transporting regulatory proteins via small channels called plasmodesmata. These channels, which direct the flow of nutrients and signals through growing tissues, are regulated during development. The team discovered a gene encoding a chaperonin, CCT8, that controls the transport of a transcription factor SHOOTMERISTEMLESS (STM) between cells in the plant stem cell niche, or meristem. STM is critical for stem cell maintenance, and studies of the CCT8 gene indicate that movement of STM between cells is required for this function. The lab also continues to identify other genes that control plant architecture through effects on stem cell maintenance and identity, and their work has implications for crop yields. Recent examples include discovery of a subunit of a heterotrimeric G protein that is conserved throughout animals and plants, and their studies indicate that this gene controls stem cell proliferation. They have found that in plants, the G protein interacts with a completely different class of receptors than in animals. Their discovery helps to explain how signaling from diverse receptors is achieved in plants. This year, they also demonstrated that weak mutations in one of the receptor proteins can enhance seed production in maize, which could lead to yield increases. Separately, the lab has characterized system-wide networks of gene expression, using “next-gen” profiling and chromatin immunoprecipitation methods that have revealed many new hypotheses in developmental networks controlling inflorescence development. They are also developing a collection of maize lines that can drive expression of any reporter or experimental gene in any tissue type—tools of great interest to maize researchers that are being made available to the broader scientific community, enabling experiments never before possible in crop plants.
An essay from the President: Biology for the planet
May 16, 2019
CSHL plant scientists are looking for solutions to the biggest questions in agriculture as environments are reshaped by climate change.
To protect stem cells, plants have diverse genetic backup plans
April 15, 2019
Experts discover how an essential genetic circuit found in all flowering plants, regardless of species, is protected in startlingly different ways.
Crop yield in maize influenced by unexpected gene ‘moonlighting’
April 1, 2019
Yield of the maize plant is tied to activity of a gene called RAMOSA3, but new evidence suggests the gene performs other unexpected functions
AAAS names two CSHL faculty as 2018 Fellows
November 27, 2018
David Jackson and Jan A. Witkowski were both named 2018 AAAS Fellows for their work in the fields of agriculture and biology.
Future scientists take to the bench
September 20, 2018
The latest class of the Partners for the Future program visit the Lab and meet their mentors as they get to work
Unique communication strategy discovered in pathway controlling plant growth
March 22, 2018
Scientists have identified a receptor on plant stem cells that can issue different instructions about how the plant will grow.
Discovery of new stem cell pathway indicates route to much higher yields in maize, staple crops
May 16, 2016
Researchers discover a new regulatory pathway that channels signals emanating from a plant's extremities to the stem cell niche.
Saving our food supply with alumna Michelle Cilia
December 11, 2015
Dr. Michelle Cilia has made it her mission to understand the bacteria and viruses that strike plants—and how to stop them.
In odd-looking mutant, clues about how maize plants control stem cell number
September 11, 2013
In plants, the growth of organs such as roots, leaves and flowers depends upon the activity of meristems.
Plant scientists at CSHL demonstrate new means of boosting maize yields
February 3, 2013
Scientists successfully demonstrated what it describes as a “simple hypothesis” for making significant increases in yields for the maize plant.
Bommert, P. and Je, B. I. and Goldshmidt, A. and Jackson, D. (2013) The maize G alpha gene COMPACT PLANT2 functions in CLAVATA signalling to control shoot meristem size. Nature, 502(7472) pp. 555-558.
Bommert, P. and Nagasawa, N. S. and Jackson, D. (2013) Quantitative variation in maize kernel row number is controlled by the FASCIATED EAR2 locus. Nature Genetics, 45(3) pp. 334-337.
Xu, X. M. and Wang, J. and Xuan, Z. Y. and Goldshmidt, A. and Borrill, P. G. M. and Hariharan, N. and Kim, J. Y. and Jackson, D. P. (2011) Chaperonins Facilitate KNOTTED1 Cell-to-Cell Trafficking and Stem Cell Function. Science, 333(6046) pp. 1141-1144.
Whipple, C. J. and Kebrom, T. H. and Weber, A. L. and Yang, F. and Hall, D. and Meeley, R. and Schmidt, R. and Doebley, J. and Brutnell, T. P. and Jackson, D. P. (2011) grassy tillers1 promotes apical dominance in maize and responds to shade signals in the grasses. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(33) pp. E506-E512.
Satoh-Nagasawa, N. and Nagasawa, N. and Malcomber, S. and Sakai, H. and Jackson, D. (2006) A trehalose metabolic enzyme controls inflorescence architecture in maize. Nature, 441(7090) pp. 227-30.Additional materials of the author at
CSHL Institutional Repository