2018 Kriton-Hatzios Symposium
“Big Data: the Next Frontier in Plant Science”

This year's symposium, organized by Dr. Shahid Mukhtar,
Was held on March 24-26, 2018.

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Dr. Philip Benfey
Paul Kramer Professor and HHMI Investigator
Duke University and HHMI
“Underground signaling networks”
(Benfey website)
To understand the progression from stem cells to differentiated tissues we are exploiting the simplifying aspects of root development. We have developed new experimental, analytical and imaging methods to identify networks functioning within different cell types and developmental stages of the root. We are particularly interested in a subnetwork that regulates a key asymmetric cell division of a stem cell and the regulatory networks that control differentiation of the stem cell’s progeny. To quantify dynamic aspects of these networks, we are employing light-sheet microscopy to image accumulation of their different components. We have also uncovered a clock-like process responsible for the positioning of lateral roots along the root primary axis. Two sets of genes were identified that oscillate in opposite phases at the root tip and are involved in the production of prebranch sites, locations of future lateral roots. A derivative of the carotenoid biosynthesis pathway appears to act as a new mobile signal regulating root architecture.
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Dr. Bob Schmitz
Associate Professor
University of Georgia at Athens
“Mapping and exploiting functional variation in crop genomes”
(Schmitz website)
Significant progress has been made in recent years in plant genome assembly and gene annotation. However, the systematic identification of plant cis-regulatory DNA elements remains a challenge, as methods that are highly effective in animals do not translate to plants. A comprehensive and well-curated data set of plant cis-regulatory DNA elements is instrumental to understanding transcriptional regulation during development and/or in response to external stimuli. In addition, cis-regulatory DNA elements are also hotspots for genetic variations underlying key agronomical traits. We have discovered a plant-specific chromatin signature that is indicative of cis-regulatory DNA elements. Our goal is to use this newly identified signature in combination with high-throughput validation assays to systematically identify, analyze and functionally validate cis-regulatory elements in important crop species.
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Dr. Libo Shan
Associate Professor
Texas A&M University
“Microbial sensing and signaling from the plant cell membrane”
(Shan website)
The primary plant immune response is triggered by the detection of microbial patterns via cell surface-resident receptors, largely encoded by receptor-like kinases (RLKs) and receptor-like proteins (RLPs). These RLK/RLPs sense not only microbial components but also diverse intrinsic and extrinsic signals, and relay the signaling cascades to various downstream outputs that are central to plant growth, development, immunity and stress adaptation. My laboratory is mainly interested in the RLK/RLP-mediated signaling mechanisms in plant immunity, and the regulation of the shared regulators for a trade-off between growth and immunity. Using genetic and biochemical approaches, we are studying the intertwined protein phosphorylation and ubiquitination regulations on immune and development responses. The recent progresses on the regulation of plant immune sensory complex and signaling relay to global immune gene activation will be discussed in the talk.
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Dr. Jason Williams
Lead, CyVerse EOT
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
“Data, Data Everywhere Nor any a Drop to Drink”
(Williams website)
Since the sequencing of the Arabidopsis genome in 2000, plant science like all of the biological sciences has been transformed by the availability of genomics data. Nearly 20 years later, and at the 10th anniversary of low-cost, high-throughput sequencing, the aspirational goal post many are still in search of – deriving insight from genomics – has moved into remoter and more unfamiliar territories such as machine vision and deep learning. Big Data is easy, big knowledge, not so much.
This talk will outline problems, opportunities, and challenges that plant biologists face, from the perspective of current students whose future academic aims, questions, and methods will look less-and-less like those they were trained in. We will detail ways in which current training is likely to fail and what solutions available today may address some critical issues. Ultimately, driving (rather than being driven by) the advance of technology will require attention to cultivating interdisciplinary approaches and emphasizing diverse skills, ethical perspectives, and people. While the future is as unpredictable as ever, there is a community responsibility to consider how our steps now can shape the trajectory (if not the details) of the science to come.