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
As we advance toward the middle of the twenty-first century, humanity faces an existential challenge: figuring out how to feed the world’s rapidly growing population in the face of climate change and the increasingly limited availability of key nutrients and suitable land for farming. We need solutions that are local, national and global to increase...
To protect stem cells, plants have diverse genetic backup plans
April 15, 2019
Cold Spring Harbor, NY — Despite evolution driving a wide variety of differences, many plants function the same way. Now a new study has revealed the different genetic strategies various flowering plant species use to achieve the same status quo. In flowering plants, stem cells are critical for survival. Influenced by environmental factors, stem cells...
Crop yield in maize influenced by unexpected gene ‘moonlighting’
April 1, 2019
Cold Spring Harbor, NY — Maize is a staple crop that came from humble beginnings. If you look at its wild ancestor, teosinte, the plant looks nearly unrecognizable. Human selection has persuaded the maize plant to grow in a way that produces higher yields and can be more efficiently harvested. But scientists and farmers are...
AAAS names two CSHL faculty as 2018 Fellows
November 27, 2018
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has announced its 2018 AAAS Fellows and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has two! Both were chosen for their continued efforts toward advancing science. Professor David Jackson is honored in the field of Agriculture, Food and Renewable Resources for his discoveries of the genes and signals...
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...
Saving our food supply with alumna Michelle Cilia
December 11, 2015
About 49.1 million people across the country suffer from food insecurity, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. This number includes both those individuals who lack access to fresh and unprocessed foods as well as those who lack access to food in general, and thus cannot live a healthy and active...
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...
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