Western Lab - Research Projects

Correct growth and development in plants is inextricably linked with the ability of cells to produce and/or modify their cell walls. Thus, a key challenge in plant biology is to understand the structure of cell walls and identify the mechanisms and proteins that are required to synthesize and modify them.

The epidermal cells of the Arabidopsis seed coat undergo a complex differentiation process in which there is sequential synthesis of pectinaceous mucilage followed by secondary cell wall production. As a result, at maturity these cells contain a donut-shaped pocket of mucilage subtended by a volcano-shaped secondary cell wall. Wetting of mature seeds leads to the release of the hydrated mucilage gel, a process that requires cell wall weakening through modifying enzymes.

The Western Lab uses these mucilage secretory cells as a model to study the processes and regulation of cell wall production and modification during plant development. In addition, the polar secretion of pectin during mucilage production also makes this system a good model with which to dissect the mechanisms of targeted secretion in plants.

Hydrated Arabidopsis seed, mucilage stained with CCRC-M36 antibody for pectin rhamnogalacturonan I (green) & seed coat cell walls counterstained with propidium iodide (red).


A second stream of research in the Western Lab regards the biomechanical properties of plant stems and petioles. Specifically, how both cell wall structure and the organization of cells within plant stems and petioles affects their properties as biological beams. This work is in collaboration with Prof. Damiano Pasini (McGill Mechanical Engineering) and Prof. Alejandro Rey (McGill Chemical Engineering).


Last update: Nov. 23, 2018
Webmistress: Carole Verdone-Smith, Department of Biology, McGill University