Research Projects

Our lab studies how organ size and shape are controlled in the flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Reproductive competence of flowering plants requires proper development of the carpel, which is the female reproductive organ of the plant. The meristematic regions along the margin of the developing carpel generate ovules that will later develop into seeds. These meristematic regions are functionally analogous to the mammalian ovary and placenta.

Arabidopsis gynoecium

A confocal microscopy image of a developing Arabidopsis gynoecium shows two rows of interdigitated ovule primordia arising from the carpel margin meristem. Once fertilized these ovule primordia will develop into seeds. Proper development of the carpel margin meristem is thus critical for female reproductive competence and for agricultural productivity in many agricultural varieties.

carpel margin meristem

The carpel margin meristems (CMMs) provide an excellent system to study basic problems in developmental biology such as patterning, the regulation of cellular proliferation and the control of organ size and shape. Dr. Franks' research program seeks to clarify basic mechanisms of organ size and shape regulation and understand relationships between patterning cues and cellular proliferation within the carpel. Current research focuses on (1) the molecular mechanisms that support the synergistic genetic interaction between seuss and aintegumenta mutants during CMM development; 2) the direct downstream targets of SEUSS regulation within the carpel; 3) the elucidation of the transcriptional gene regulatory network that controls ovule initiation and meristematic competence in the carpel; 4) the identification and functional studies of novel genes that play a critical role in CMM development; 5) the application of fluorescent activated cell sorting (FACS) technology to isolate transcriptionally-distinct populations of carpel cell types.