Salk Institute for Biological Studies


Joanne  Chory

Joanne Chory

Professor and Director
Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator
Howard H. and Maryam R. Newman Chair in Plant Biology



Joanne Chory, a Professor in the Plant Biology Laboratory, is interested in identifying the mechanisms by which plants respond to changes in their light environment. She and her colleagues use genetic, genomic and biochemical approaches in the reference plant, Arabidopsis,  to identify components of the phototransduction pathways, with emphasis placed on the events mediated through a family of red/far-red-light-absorbing receptors. Her laboratory has identified mutants in these photoreceptors and in nuclear-localized signal transduction components. Work in Dr. Chory's lab has also led to the discovery of a steroid hormone, brassinolide, that controls plant development in response to light, and has identified the plant steroid receptor and signaling pathway.

"Our lab is interested in identifying the mechanisms that plants use to respond to changes in their environment, particularly light. Our hope is that by discovering the molecular triggers that determine whether a plant matures into a spindly or robust specimen, we can contribute to efforts to increase crop yield and alleviate hunger."

Stuck where the seed germinates, plants have to make the best of their real estate. They rely on an arsenal of light-sensitive photoreceptors to decide when to germinate and flower to ensure the next generation of seeds. The Chory laboratory studies the signaling pathways plants use to detect changes in the sunlight that hits their leaves, not only when seasons change, but also when they grow in shady, crowded conditions. She and her group have assigned specific functions to a number of photoreceptors that regulate plant growth, identified components of the light signaling pathways, and shown that photoreceptors link hormone biosynthesis and signaling pathways within the plant to the local light environment.

Chory's laboratory has made significant contributions to the studies of three major plant hormones. Her team identified the steroid receptor and signaling pathway utilized by all flowering plants. They determined the structure of the receptor for a class of small hormones called cytokinins, which are utilized as herbicides. And they solved the long-running mystery of how plants produce auxins, which play essential roles in plant growth and development. Recently, Chory's laboratory showed that the major plant auxin is synthesized by a simple pathway from the amino acid, tryptophan.

Chory is also investigating how genetic variation in light-sensitive pathways in thale cress plants ensures that plants in northern latitudes are more sensitive to light than those in the sun-drenched Mediterranean. Using a reference strain of the plant, her team is assessing the contribution of almost every gene to light sensing and signaling in a variety of light environments. Knowing the full spectrum of genes that can be altered in the laboratory to affect an adaptive trait— and how this compares with the genes that affect plants' appearance in the wild—will advance understanding of how genes evolve together to make an efficient, coordinated network. This work is important not only to evolutionary biologists and plant breeders, but also to human biology, where similar experiments cannot be carried out. Chory's research may eventually enable researchers to develop plants that are particularly welladapted to challenging environments, boosting the yields of agricultural crops.

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