Ocean plants may have a few secrets to share with their terrestrial relatives. In fact, studies of marine algae may shed light on how corn and other crops can better resist drought, according to John Boyer, E. I. du Pont Professor of Marine Biochemistry/Biophysics at the University of Delaware.
On Thursday, September 21, at 7:00 p.m. at the Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes, Boyer will present "Water and Life, Seen through the Cells of Marine Plants." The talk will conclude this year's Ocean Currents Lecture Series, which has been held monthly at the campus since April.
"In evolutionary time, marine plants are much older than land plants," Boyer says. "With the move to the land, animal life became possible there. But the move was delayed until plants could better manage water, especially for cell enlargement and continued photosynthesis."
While some plants eventually adapted to living on land, today most plants still cannot live long without water, resulting in significant crop losses during droughts. According to Boyer, the process of cell enlargement, or how plants grow larger, is the most sensitive to unfavorable conditions. When water is in short supply, it is the first physiological process to fail.
In his laboratory in Lewes, Boyer and his research staff are examining marine and land plants at the molecular level to better understand how the growth rates and metabolism of plants change when water is limited in supply. One species of marine algae of particular interest to the scientists is Chara corallina because its cells are so large that the scientists can follow its response to dehydration, minute by minute.
"Marine plants have large structures which make for easier examination," Boyer notes. "The information on how these cells grow can then be applied to land plants."
Through a $2.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation's Genomics Program, Boyer currently is investigating and cataloging genes of plant species. He also has authored two books and more than 160 journal articles and is a member of several honorary and professional societies including the National Academy of Sciences.
Last year, Boyer received the University of Delaware's highest faculty recognition, the prestigious Francis Alison Award. Named for the founder of the Academy of Newark that was the forerunner of the University of Delaware, the award recognizes exemplary scholarship, professional achievements, and dedication.
The lecture will begin at 7:00 p.m. in Room 104, Cannon Laboratory, at the Hugh R. Sharp Campus, 700 Pilottown Road, Lewes. The hour-long talk will be followed by light refreshments.
While the lecture is free and open to the public, seating is limited and reservations are required. To reserve your seat, please contact the college at (302) 645-4279.