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Assessing the Role of Endophytic Fungi

Principal Investigator: Dr. Thomas Bultman

Students engaged in this research project will have an opportunity to explore how endophytic fungi impact the internal environment of plants, while testing hypotheses concerning the consequences of those impacts on plant reproduction and survivorship. Endophytic fungi grow intercellularly within the shoots of many grasses and appear to protect the plants from insect herbivores. The mechanism of this protection is purported to be toxic alkaloids produced by the plant/fungal symbiotum. We have shown that grass endophytes mediate wound-induced resistance to insect herbivores. That is, the fungal endophytes are stimulated to provide heightened levels of protection for the plant following initial damage to the plant. One direction of current research is to assess the molecular basis of the induced response and determine if fungal and/or plant genes are responsible for the wound-induced response. Students will assist in formulating testable hypotheses concerning the interactions among endophytes, grasses, and insect herbivores (e.g. aphids). Students will design methods of testing these hypotheses while learning various molecular techniques, and methods for fungal staining and detection, to determine the induction of fungal endophyte to down- or up-regulate the transcription of genes responsible for the production of defensive alkaloids. Students will use analytical chemistry and molecular biology to determine how the fungi impact herbivorous insects.

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