Abstract - Plants are sessile organisms living in a dynamic environment to which they must continually reshape themselves, according to the conditions they face, in order to maximise their reproductive potential. This behavioral plasticity is achieved through many complex and intricate signalling pathways that allow for the continuous perception, response, and adjustments to new environmental stimuli. A growing body of evidence suggests that such pathways are not merely static but dynamic and can be primed following repeated activation, thus effecting enhanced responses to recurring stresses. Such examples of priming has led to a notion that plants have some capacity to form stress memories of past experiences. However, the full extent and nature of such memory, and the machinery involved to store and transmit these, remain enigmatic. One prospective mechanism is the involvement of heritable, yet rapid and reversible, chromatin marks that, theoretically, could be shaped by the environment to convey a regulatory effect on the expression of the underlying genotype, thus acting as an epigenetic layer of regulation. This thesis explores the potential intersection of stress signalling pathways and chromatin variation, specifically DNA methylation, to co-ordinate plant stress responses.
Biography - I completed a Bachelor of Biotechnology at the ANU in 2012, after completing honors with Professor Barry Pogson, studying a series of Arabidopsis chloroplast biogenesis mutants (e.g. sco3) to identify the signalling pathways that control chloroplast development such as PHYB-PIF4. Afterwards, I continued working with the Pogson group as an RA bridging a variety of topics including ABA signalling, method development (isolating and treating protoplasts), and characterizing the effects of high-light stress (impacts on gene expression and PSII performance). Subsequently, I decided to take the dive into a PhD to further explore the field of epigenetics, which had always been an interest and a filed I wanted to know more about. Specifically, my thesis is aimed at systematically testing the hypothesis that chromatin variation, such as DNA methylation, can be induced by stress to facilitate stress responsive acclimation via regulating gene expression. However, such analyses have shown that DNA methylation is remarkably stable under stress and may not act as flexibly as has been popularly claimed. I am hoping to continue a career in research that will hopefully contributing to dissecting any potential contribution of epigenetic mechanisms towards enhancing plant stress tolerance, particularly in species beyond Arabidopsis, and whether such mechanisms could be utilized in an agronomic setting (e.g. BAD KARMA in Palm Oil).