Currently the following projects are ongoing in our lab:
1. Tri-Trophic Interactions
In this project, we investigate plant-insect herbivore-parasitoid wasp interactions asking how herbivores adapt to plant defences and utilize this for resisting parasitization. We also study the oviposition behavior of parasitic wasps. The study systems in this project are agriculturally important crops and insect pests. Eg. Cotton, castor and cabbage plants and the corresponding herbivorous and parasitic insects. Plants release specific blend of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when attacked by insect herbivores. The blend composition varies with plant age, abiotic factors , type of herbivore and damage. Here, we address the role of various factors that are responsible for change in this VOC emission. The project mainly involves testing of various plant VOCs on insect herbivore to understand parasitization rates.
2. Plant-Pathogen Interactions
Using Arabidopsis thaliana-Rhodococcus fascians as study system, we examine the role of phytohormones especially cytokinins in plant disease establishment. R. fascians causes a very unique disease symptom known as leafy gall that looks like a shooty outgrowth. The role of cytokinins in this pathogenesis is explored in this project. This pathogen is known to produce phytohormone mimics that collapse plant's hormonal balance leading to infection. We use various genetic and analytical tools to address this.
3. Seed Dispersal Mechanisms
Plants are sessile after germination. Hence it is important the seeds are dispersed in a good way to ensure germination success. Plants invest in fleshy fruits with attractive cues such as color and aroma to lure seed dispersers. However, not all plants have such fruits. Some plants rely on wind for pollination. Here, we study secondary seed dispersal by ants known as mymechocory. We investigate the cues used by ants to pick up the seed. We compare such cue among various plant ecotypes and ant species. We also study rewards in plant seeds that make them attractive to ants.
4. Heavy metal stress and plants
Many plants grow in heavy metal contaminated sites as a measure to escape herbivory and competition. We study such plants trying to understand their adaptation mechanisms with possible application in metal removal from water. Phytoremediation is emerging as an alternative, eco-friendly way to mitigate heavy metal pollution. We discovered endophytic bacteria from plants that can tolerate such heavy metals and explore the metal-removing capabilities of this microbe. In this work, we analyze chromium removal and also are designing bacterial immobilization materials to filter heavy metals from water. Preliminary invetigation shows positive results on chromium removal from water using the endophytes isolated from plants. The project has promise of many future applications.