One way to adapt to climate change is to understand how plants can thrive in the changing environment. José Dinneny looks at the mechanisms that control environmental responses in plants, including responses to salty soils and different moisture conditions—work that provides the foundation for developing crops for the changing climate.

The Dinneny  lab focuses on understanding how developmental processes such as cell-type specification regulate responses to environmental change. Most studies have considered the organ or even the whole organism as a single responsive unit and ignore the potential diversity of responses by the various cell-types composing an organism. Dinneny has shown that developmental parameters play a key role in determining the response of cells to high salinity.

Dinneny and team used Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting to isolate specific cell-types from roots to generate a high-resolution gene expression map, which details the expression pattern of over 23,000 Arabidopsis genes in roots grown under both standard and high-salinity conditions. They showed that regulatory pathways primarily control  events in multiple cell-types while cell-type specific responses, which constitute the bulk of the response, are controlled by unknown mechanisms. Identifying and characterizing these unknown mechanisms is at the heart of his current research, which will lead to a deep understanding of how a multicellular organ responds and potentially adapts to environmental change.

Other studies focus on moisture signaling, which may regulate nearly every aspect of root development. In a process his team dubbed  “hydropatterning,” local contact of the root tip with a liquid or the air has the ability to cause stark differences in the tissue development. Hydropatterning is observed in Arabidopsis thaliana as well as other flowering plants. The goal  is to establish a foundation for understanding hydropatterning by characterizing the changes in growth and development using developmental and cell-type specific approaches along with genetic and genomic tools to identify the key pathways through which moisture signaling acts to affect these processes.

Dinneny received his B.S. in plant science from the University of California—Berkley and his Ph. D. in plant developmental genetics from the University of California—San Diego. He was an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore and a principal investigator at Temasek Lifesciences Laboratory before coming to Carnegie in 2011. For more see


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February 12, 2019

Washington, DC— Carnegie’s Winslow Briggs, a giant in the field of plant biology who explained how seedlings grow toward light, died on February 11 at Stanford University Medical Center. He was 90.

Briggs joined Carnegie as the Director of the Department of Plant Biology in 1973 after teaching both at Harvard University—where he completed his bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and Ph.D.—and at Stanford University. He held the position for two decades, establishing himself as a global leader in plant genetics and physiology, publishing landmark research on the molecular mechanisms that plants and other organisms use to sense and respond to light

Sue Rhee, Thomas Clandinin and Miriam B. Goodman discuss the NeuroPlant project over a tobacco plant in the greenhouse. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)
January 22, 2019

Stanford, CA—For millennia, humanity has used medicinal plants and plant-based compounds to treat a variety of neurological ailments including epilepsy, mania, migraines, and bipolar disorder. Now a team of researchers from Carnegie and Stanford University is using microscopic worms to understand what these plant-derived molecules are and how they affect the brain’s biochemistry.

Called the NeuroPlant project, these efforts could lead to new, more efficient ways to develop drugs to treat a variety of neurological and psychiatric diseases in humans. Their work is funded by a Big Ideas grant from the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute.

“We’re interested

A bright field image of the anemone Aiptasia populated with its symbiotic algae.
December 6, 2018

Stanford, CA—How much of the ability of a coral reef to withstand stressful conditions is influenced by the type of algae that the corals hosts?

Corals are marine invertebrates from the phylum called cnidarians that build large exoskeletons from which colorful reefs are constructed. But this reef-building is only possible because of a mutually beneficial relationship between the coral and various species of single-celled algae called dinoflagellates that live inside the cells of coral polyps.

The algae are photosynthetic—meaning capable of converting the Sun’s energy into chemical energy for food, just like plants. And the exchange of nutrients between the

Devaki Bhaya
October 5, 2018

Palo Alto, CA—Carnegie’s Devaki Bhaya has been named a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences. She is one of 14 new members selected as “partners and collaborators in the pursuit of the Academy mission to explore, explain, and sustain life.”

At Carnegie’s Department of Plant Biology Bhaya studies how photosynthetic microorganisms are affected by environmental stressors such as light, low nutrient availability, and viruses. Her research on speciation in the microbial mats of Yellowstone National Park is providing insights into how microbial populations communicate, evolve, and share resources. These findings offered a first glimpse into the

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Carnegie will receive Phase II funding through Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that enables individuals worldwide to test bold ideas to address persistent health and development challenges. Department of Plant Biology Director Wolf Frommer,  with a team of researchers from the International Rice Research Institute, Kansas State University, and Iowa State University, will continue to pursue an innovative global health research project, titled “Transformative Strategy for Controlling Rice Blight.”

Rice bacterial blight is one of the major challenges to food security, and this project aims to

Carnegie researchers recently constructed genetically encoded FRET sensors for a variety of important molecules such as glucose and glutamate. The centerpiece of these sensors is a recognition element derived from the superfamily of bacterial binding protiens called periplasmic binding protein (PBPs), proteins that are primary receptors for moving chemicals  for hundreds of different small molecules. PBPs are ideally suited for sensor construction. The scientists fusie individual PBPs with a pair of variants and produced a large set of sensors, e.g. for sugars like maltose, ribose and glucose or for the neurotransmitter glutamate. These sensors have been adopted for measurement of

Fresh water constitutes less than 1% of the surface water on earth, yet the importance of this simple molecule to all life forms is immeasurable. Water represents the most vital reagent for chemical reactions occurring in a cell. In plants, water provides the structural support necessary for plant growth. It acts as the carrier for nutrients absorbed from the soil and transported to the shoot. It also provides the chemical components necessary to generate sugar and biomass from light and carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. While the importance of water to plants is clear, an understanding as to how plants perceive water is limited. Most studies have focused on environmental conditions

Today, humanity is increasingly aware of the impact it has on the environment and the difficulties caused when the environment impacts our communities. Environmental change can be particularly harsh when the plants we use for food, fuel, feed and fiber are affected by this change. High salinity is an agricultural contaminant of increasing significance. Not only does this limit the land available for use in agriculture, but in land that has been used for generations, the combination of irrigation and evaporation gradually leads to increasing soil salinity.

The Dinneny lab focuses on understanding how developmental processes such as cell-type specification regulate responses to

Staff Associate Kamena Kostova joined the Department of Embryology in November 2018. She studies ribosomes, the factory-like structures inside cells that produce proteins. Scientists have known about ribosome structure, function, and biogenesis for some time. But, a major unanswered question is how cells monitor the integrity of the ribosome itself. Problems with ribosomes have been associated with diseases including neurodegeneration and cancer. The Kostova lab investigates the fundamental question of how cells respond when their ribosomes break down using mass spectrometry, functional genomics methods, and CRISPR genome editing.

Kostova received a B.S. in Biology from the

Sally June Tracy applies cutting-edge experimental and analytical techniques to understand the fundamental physical behavior of materials at extreme conditions. She uses dynamic compression techniques with high-flux X-ray sources to probe the structural changes and phase transitions in materials at conditions that mimic impacts and the interiors of terrestrial and exoplanets. She is also an expert in nuclear resonant scattering and synchrotron X-ray diffraction. She uses these techniques to understand novel behavior at the electronic level.  Tracy received her Ph.D. from the California Institute of

The Ludington lab investigates complex ecological dynamics from microbial community interactions using the fruit fly  Drosophila melanogaster. The fruit fly gut carries numerous microbial species, which can be cultured in the lab. The goal is to understand the gut ecology and how it relates to host health, among other questions, by taking advantage of the fast time-scale and ease of studying the fruit fly in controlled experiments. 

Nick Konidaris is a staff scientist at the Carnegie Observatories and Instrument Lead for the SDSS-V Local Volume Mapper (LVM). He works on a broad range of new optical instrumentation projects in astronomy and remote sensing. Nick's projects range from experimental to large workhorse facilities. On the experimental side, he recently began working on a new development platform for the 40-inch Swope telescope at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory that will be used to explore and understand the explosive universe.

 Nick and his colleagues at the Department of Global Ecology are leveraging the work on Swope to develop a new airborne spectrograph that will be