My research group investigates biotic and abiotic stress on plants at the cellular and sub-cellular biochemical and molecular levels. The objective is to identify what changes occur in plant cells upon exposure to stress and which of these changes aid the plant to increase its tolerance to the stress.
A major focus currently is the investigation of freezing stress tolerance in grapevines. Winters in Ontario can cause substantial damage to the cultivated grapes used in the Wine Industry, whereas wild grapes have no problems. We try to find out what the molecular basis is for this phenomenon. In particular, what genes switch "on" or "off" and thereby regulate a large number of other genes? What is different between these genes in the freezing tolerant wild Vitis riparia and the freezing sensitive wine grape Vitis vinifera or other members of the Vitaceae family? Potentially interesting genes are analyzed by a variety of techniques, including bioinformatic analyses, RT-PCR to detect the type of transcripts and conditions under which they accumulate, and mutant plants. We have developed a quantitative transient transactivation assay which we use to analyze the regulating transcription factors we have identified. The ultimate goal is to use this knowledge to improve freezing and drought stress tolerance in the cultivated grapes.