Student Research

Exploring the Effect of Aluminum Toxicity on Plant Metabolism

Metabolomics is the study of the biochemical processes in an organism and how those processes are affected by biotic or abiotic stress. Understanding these mechanisms enables a broader view of how stress affects various biological systems and how the organism is susceptible or resistant to the stress. Currently, our research group is applying metabolomics and metabolite profiling to explore how plants respond to toxic soils, such as poisoning from aluminum which causes stunted plant growth. Surprisingly, a significant portion of arable land is contaminated with aluminum, limiting its use for food crop cultivation. Herein we are applying GC-MS to explore the metabolic perturbations associated with aluminum toxicity and the possible coping strategies plants have developed. Recently, we have developed a sensitive selected ion monitoring (SIM) method to explore the metabolic effects of stress on plant mechanisms. Not only is sensitivity increased, but also selectivity by detecting only the masses of interest. So far, we have doubled our sensitivity for many analytes, including those associated with the TCA cycle. Additionally, we are able to quantify 15 metabolites using our method and can add over a dozen more. With this method, we are exploring the metabolism of plants exposed to aluminum as well as the root exudate to understand plant coping mechanisms.