Dassanayake Lab 2019 Success

lab membersDassanayake Lab current members (from L to R): Pramod Pantha (grad student), Chathura Wijesinghege (grad student), Dr. Maheshi Dassanayake (PI), Dr. Dong-Ha Oh (Research Assistant Professor), Kieu-Nga Tran (grad student), and Guannan Wang (grad student) 

Research Focus

The Dassanayake lab seeks to characterize and to compare genomes in order to better understand genetic and evolutionary processes linking genotypes to phenotypes. Sequencing and decoding plant genomes have been integral in our approaches. The overarching goal of their research is to understand how to interpret complex and fascinating messages embedded in genomes.

For more information please visit the Dassanayake website at: www.lsugenomics.org 

Recently the Dassanayake Lab was awarded an NSF-EDGE (Enabling Discovery through GEnomic Tools) grant that will enable the development of genomic tools to study plants naturally adapted to harsh environments. What can we learn from stress adapted plants?

At a time when food security is challenged by diminishing freshwater resources and other environmental stresses that threaten modern agriculture, it is imperative to seek novel solutions to develop new crops better adapted for stresses such as drought, cold, high-heat, or saline-, toxic- and nutrient-poor soils. Plants that naturally inhabit harsh environments present novel genetic resources underexplored for their adaptations to multiple environmental stresses. Recent advances in genomic sciences have enabled us to use such wild plants as new models to identify unique gene functions that can be introduced to our elite crop cultivars to meet global agricultural needs. In this project, our goal is to develop a molecular toolkit for two wild plants that can be premier models for the plant science community that investigates how plants tolerate environmental stresses without losing significant yields and how such traits can be successfully integrated to current crops. Project aims include development of methods to efficiently detect candidate genes in the selected wild plant models, to target specific gene products in tissue or cell types, and effectively monitor gene function as an essential step to assess the suitability of transferring gene functions from a wild plant to a new crop. In addition to creating new molecular genetic resources, our project will provide training to graduate students and research scientists to use these new tools, and will also inspire the next generation of plant researchers from K-12 to undergraduate students to look for genetic innovations yet to be discovered in wild plants.

The Dassanayake lab is collaborating with labs of Drs. Aaron Smith and John Larkin at LSU on the EDGE project.

In 2019, in addition to the NSF-EDGE award, the Dassanayake lab has been awarded research funds from federal and international sources to conduct diverse research projects on plant and agricultural genomics:

  • DOE-Joint Genome Institute funded Community Science Program project: A transcriptome atlas enabling discovery of genes evolved as adaptations to environmental stress in a model extremophyte, Schrenkiella parvula
  • US Department of Energy Biological and Environmental Research Program on Genomics-Enabled Plant Biology for Determination of Gene Function: Discovering innovations in stress tolerance through comparative gene regulatory network analysis and cell-type specific expression maps. A research collaboration with Stanford University, University of Michigan, and Virginia Tech.
  • COPIA Foundation, Israel; Project Title: Mining seagrasses to develop salt-tolerant crops. A collaboration with Ben-Gurion University, Israel
  • Biogreen 21 International Grant with Gyeongsang National University awarded by the National Research Foundation of Republic of Korea. Project Title: Development and biotechnological application of comparative genomics approaches to study plant stress systems.
  • A collaborative project funded by the US Geological Survey - Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit for the Phragmites australis genome project led by Dr. Keith Clay, Tulane University