Doctor of Philosophy (Horticulture), Purdue University, USA, 2006.
Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude (Biology), Washington University in St. Louis, USA 1999.
1) Plant Metal Homeostasis and Phytoremediation
My research aims toward understanding the copper (Cu) homeostasis mechanism in plants. The ability for plants to cope with Cu toxicity depends on a class of small, cysteine-rich, metal-chelating proteins, named metallothioneins (MTs). We have shown that transcription of the MT genes in Arabidopsis thaliana is regulated by cellular Cu concentrations and that this responsiveness is conferred by a 77-bp region in the Arabidopsis MT2a gene promoter. Site-directed mutagenesis and DNA-protein interaction assays will be further utilized to investigate whether a GTAC motif located within this promoter region is indeed a cis-acting Copper Responsive Element.
Cadmium (Cd) is a heavy metal pollutant that has no biological importance but is inadvertently taken up by the organisms. Bioaccumulation of Cd in edible crops is an alarming issue in many agricultural areas. The second part of my research is therefore intended to identify genetic factors that contribute to the bioaccumulation of Cd in plants. Using transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana that express a Cd-responsive reporter gene, we are screening for mutants that accumulate more or less Cd. The knowledge gained from this study will permit us to engineer plants that hyperaccumulate Cd for phytoremediation purposes and to develop crop varieties that limit Cd bioaccumulation.
2) Biodiesel and Algal Biotechnology
Amid the world energy crisis and global warming, various forms of bioenergy produced from plants and microalgae have emerged as preferred alternatives to the fossil fuels. Microalgae have advantages over plants because of their rapid growth and high oil content. In collaboration with Assoc. Prof. Dr. Prayad Pokethitiyook in the department, I am currently investigating the environmental and genetic factors that affect growth and oil yield of commercial and newly isolated algal strains.
Spirulina platensis is a filamentous cyanobacterium that has been known for its high protein content and other health benefits. Spirulina has been commercially cultured in Thailand and few other countries. To improve the quality and production of Spirulina, I intend to develop genetic tools that will enable researchers to decipher its metabolic pathways and stress-adaptation mechanisms. These include genetic transformation, homologous recombination, and expression vectors. In particular, my research will focus on the light and salinity stress and on the metal homeostasis mechanisms. I am also interested in using Spirulina in the bioremediation of heavy metal-polluted water.