Crop plants must integrate signals from the environment and prioritize responses to stresses that may occur individually or simultaneously throughout the growing season. Stress responses can adversely affect plant growth and quality traits such as protein and starch. The ability to optimize protein productivity of plant-based foods has far-ranging impact on world health and sustainability. Plant diseases each year cause major losses to crop production. The Arabidopsis thaliana QQS (Qua Quine Starch) orphan gene modulates carbon allocation to protein and starch1. Ectopic QQS expression increases protein content2 in leaf and seed in soybean, in corn and rice3,4. QQS transcript levels are altered in plants under stresses and in mutants of genes involved in all sorts of stress responses, indicating that QQS may integrate primary metabolism with environmental perturbations, thus adjusting the plant’s adaption to abiotic and biotic stresses5. The QQS protein binds to a transcriptional regulator in Arabidopsis and its homologs in crops: Nuclear Factor Y subunit C4 (NF-YC4). NF-YC4 overexpression mimics QQS-overexpression phenotype4. Mutants overexpressing QQS or NF-YC4 have significantly increased resistance to plant pathogens and pests6,7. We are developing a non-transgenic strategy to create high-protein crops and enhance broad-spectrum disease resistance6. Transcriptomics analyses enable new discovery to advance basic research and application in crops.
Dr. Li obtained her B.S. in biology and M.S. in Botany from Peking University in 1997 and 2000. She got her Ph.D. in Genetics (minor in Statistics) in 2006 from Iowa State University. She had been an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology at Iowa State University from 2011. She has been an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Mississippi State University from 2017. Dr. Li has been developing an integrated experimental/biocomputational approach to identify the factors that regulate plant metabolism and plant adaptation to environmental changes, bridging basic research from Arabidopsis and application in crops.