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.
Future scientists take to the bench
September 20, 2018
Great scientists do great research, but they also take the time to mentor the next generation of aspiring, inquiring minds. This is why Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s (CSHL) Partners for the Future program (PFF) connects high school seniors with researchers, offering students the opportunity to work in a fully-functioning lab. Every year, Long Island students...
Unique communication strategy discovered in pathway controlling plant growth
March 22, 2018
Cold Spring Harbor, NY — A team of plant geneticists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has identified a protein receptor on stem cells involved in plant development that can issue different instructions about how to grow depending on what peptide (protein fragment) activates it. This is the first such multi-functional receptor found to work...
Public Lecture: THE CHANGING RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HUMANS AND PLANTS – “It’s complicated”
September 8, 2017
THE CHANGING RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HUMANS AND PLANTS: ✓ It’s complicated David Jackson, Ph.D. – Professor, CSHL Zachary Lippman, Ph.D. – Professor, CSHL Doreen Ware, Ph.D. – Adjunct Associate Professor, CSHL & USDA Agricultural Research Service RSVP HERE
Discovery of new stem cell pathway indicates route to much higher yields in maize, staple crops
May 16, 2016
Braking signals from the leaves tell stem cells to stop proliferating Cold Spring Harbor, NY — Biologists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) have made an important discovery that helps explain how plants regulate the proliferation of their stem cells. The discovery has near-term implications for increasing the yield of maize and many other staple...
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. Cold Spring Harbor, NY — In plants, the growth of organs such as roots, leaves and flowers depends upon the activity of meristems. These reservoir-like compartments hold stem cells, which have the ability to develop into various...
Plant scientists at CSHL demonstrate new means of boosting maize yields
February 3, 2013
A team of plant geneticists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has successfully demonstrated what it describes as a “simple hypothesis” for making significant increases in yields for the maize plant. Cold Spring Harbor, NY — A team of plant geneticists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has successfully demonstrated what it describes as a...
One experiment: What can scientists learn from an odd-looking mutant ear of corn?
February 3, 2013
Clues about how to harness genetics to boost yield You’re looking at an ear of corn, recently cut from the side of a five-foot-high maize plant (as corn is called nearly everywhere but in America). The ear, which we view through an electron microscope, is tiny, about a quarter of an inch in length and...
Molecular chaperones traffic signaling proteins between cells in plant stem-cell maintenance pathway
August 25, 2011
Study finds KN1 trafficking through tiny channels called plasmodesmata cannot occur without chaperonins Cold Spring Harbor, NY — Like all living things, plants depend for their growth and sustenance on elaborate signaling networks to maintain stem cells, cells that have an almost magical regenerative capacity. The signals sent through these networks convey an incredible diversity...
Plant biologists dissect genetic mechanism enabling plants to overcome environmental challenge
August 1, 2011
grassy tillers1 suppresses branching, enabling maize to grow taller when shade encroaches—a key to teosinte’s ancient domestication Cold Spring Harbor, NY — When an animal gets too hot or too cold, or feels pangs of hunger or thirst, it tends to relocate—to where it’s cooler or hotter, or to the nearest place where food or...
CSHL researchers identify gene whose function explains how plant cells keep tiny communication channels open
February 17, 2009
GAT1 encodes an enzyme that maintains flow of information through transport channels Cold Spring Harbor, NY — Plant cells communicate via microscopic channels called plasmodesmata that are embedded in their cell walls. For the stem cells in the plants’ growing tips, called “meristems,” the plasmodesmata are lifelines, allowing nutrients and genetic instructions for growth to...
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
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