Invited Seminar at CES on 22 February 2021 at 9:30 am titled "Stomata: adjusting and responding to environmental changes" by Dr. Varsha Pathare from Washington State University

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Stomata: adjusting and responding to environmental changes
Dr. Varsha Pathare , Washington State University
Date & Time: 
22 Feb 2021 - 9:30am
Event Type: 
Invited Seminar

Climate change factors, like elevated CO2 and high temperature, are expected to increase the frequency and severity of drought events thus affecting the processes of plant photosynthesis and productivity across both natural and crop ecosystems. Plant ecosystems are critical for sustaining a habitable climate and life on Earth. Hence, there has been a constant pressure to accurately predict plant ecosystem responses to climate change for effective management and use of the ecosystems and to develop climate-resilient crops. Stomata - the microvalves on leaf surfaces, dynamically regulate photosynthetic CO2-uptake and water-loss in response to changing environments. Consequently, stomata determine plant growth and productivity and exert a major influence on global climate by controlling about 95% of all the CO2 and water fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. Hence, stomata are of central importance in attempts to accurately predict plant and ecosystem responses to climate change and develop climate-resilient crops.

In this talk, I will present my previous research on how stomatal traits (behavior and anatomy) vary among diverse plant groups and influence plant responses to changing environments. In addition, I will outline my future research plans to study stomatal traits in the grasses. Grasses form one of the most widespread biomes (grasslands) on Earth, can successfully thrive in extreme environments and are critical for global food security as they include cereal crops like wheat, rice, and sorghum. Despite the importance of grasses for both natural and agricultural ecosystems, surprisingly little is known about stomatal trait variation and the selective pressures giving rise to or maintaining this variation in grasses. In this talk I will specifically discuss my plans to (1) study the shift in stomatal traits that occurred during domestication of grasses (2) investigate changes in stomatal traits during evolution of grasses with different photosynthetic pathways and (3) investigate the role of stomatal traits in adaptation of grasses to diverse environments. Finally, I will highlight the implications of my research for improving representation of grasses in climate change models and for development of cereal crops that perform better under future climate.

Speaker Bio: 
I am a plant ecophysiologist, specializing in ecology and physiology of grasses. My research interests include (1) understanding the adaptations and responses of plant photosynthesis and productivity to changing environments and (2) unravelling the physiological, anatomical and biochemical basis of variation in photosynthetic CO2-uptake and water-use among ecologically and evolutionarily diverse grasses. After completing my master’s degree in Botany from Savitribai Phule Pune University, I joined as a research fellow at Bhabha Atomic Research Center, Mumbai with Dr Penna Suprasanna. My research at BARC demonstrated how mycorrhizal colonization and nitrogen supply modify the accumulation of arsenic in crops like rice and mustard. In 2014, I was awarded the prestigious Australian Discovery Post-graduate Research scholarship to pursue a PhD degree at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University with Prof. David Ellsworth, and Prof. Oula Ghannoum. During my PhD, I worked at the unique and innovative Eucalyptus Free Air CO2 Enrichment Experiment, where I studied the photosynthesis and productivity responses of understory plant communities from a drought prone ecosystem to elevated CO2 concentrations. My PhD research has challenged the predominant thinking that under elevated CO2, drought prone ecosystems will use less water, accumulate more CO2 in biomass and thus mitigate the effects of climate change. These findings have been published in the journals of Global Change Biology and Nature and are being used for improving global climate change models. Since 2017, I am working as a post-doctoral researcher with Prof. Asaph Cousins at the Washington State University, Pullman, USA. Here, I have identified the key physiological, biochemical, and anatomical traits that determine CO2 and water movement inside the leaves of diverse grasses. Findings from this work have been published in the journals of New Phytologist and Plant, Cell and Environment and have important implications for predicting grassland responses to environmental changes and for devising strategies for crop improvement. Currently, I am characterizing the impact of key leaf anatomical traits on CO2-uptake and water-use at leaf and whole-plant scale in rice mutants.