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Mel J. Oliver

Mel Oliver

Adjunct Professor
Division of Plant Sciences

E-mail: olivermj at missouri dot edu
Office address: 205 Curtis Hall
Office phone: 573-882-9645
Lab address: 204 Curtis Hall

My current and future research plans are directed towards the identification and functional characterization of genes and processes that are central (or common to) to all forms of dehydration tolerance in plants, in particular desiccation tolerance, and those that are unique to the ideotypes for each identified tolerance mechanism. These studies are also directed towards the goal of understanding the evolutionary link between mechanisms of desiccation tolerance and the mechanisms and genes involved in the response of desiccation sensitive plants to water deficits (water stress responses in crops). The purpose of my studies are to transfer the knowledge we gain from understanding how "extremophiles" cope with water deficits into practical approaches for crop improvement strategies for increased drought tolerance. My target crop for improvement is maize. The approach I have developed is a combination of functional and comparative genomics, best described as a merging of plant genomics with phylogenetics.

Much of my current work involves two model plants, the moss Tortula ruralis (right) and the African grass Sporobolus stapfianus, representing the two extremes of the spectrum of mechanisms of desiccation tolerance along with my ultimate target for improvement; maize.

In the models, the approach I have taken is a functional genomics one, the backbone of which involves the establishment of an extensive ESTs database, genomic libraries, microarrays, and functional assays built upon homologous recombination in bryophytes and transgenics. An extensive EST database for both Tortula ruralis and Sporobolus stapfianushave been established and will be available publicly. We have developed a Tortula gene chip containing a 5,000 member unigene set that has been the focal point of an extensive expression profiling analysis. We will be using 454 technology to extend our Sporobolus EST database and to enable the generation of Nimblegen arrays for in-depth expression analysis. My goal is to identify those genes that play a central role in desiccation tolerance and are adaptive (integral to the evolution of the trait). Once identified then the functional and cellular characteristics of the encoded proteins becomes a research focus.

In maize our approach is to use a high throughput qRT-PCR assessment of the expression characteristics of key genetic components under several forms of imposed water deficits and drought. This is a new endeavor in the lab reflecting my new position within the genetics efforts within the Unit here in Columbia. The work we are doing is part of collaboration with MU faculty and a means of integrating my work in dehydration tolerance with the goals of our maize genetics program. In addition to the genomic approach to understanding the underlying genetic networks involved in drought tolerance in maize we are also integrating drought tolerance into our trait analysis genetic protocols to identify diversity within existing and exotic maize germplasm that could be used in a more conventional effort for maize improvement.

The work on desiccation tolerance mechanisms has formed the backbone of my career to date but I have also been involved in several biotechnology efforts that have been directed at specific problems in agriculture, e.g., herbicide tolerance, nematode resistance, and transformation methodologies for difficult crops. I also have a major collaborative interest in the area of genetic mechanisms for transgene containment and risk assessment for use of genetically modified crops, in particular grasses, as part of an ongoing project involving researchers at the University of Rhode Island and Clemson University.

My current and future research plans are directed towards the identification and functional characterization of genes and processes that are central (or common to) to all forms of dehydration tolerance in plants, in particular desiccation tolerance, and those that are unique to the ideotypes for each identified tolerance mechanism. These studies are also directed towards the goal of understanding the evolutionary link between mechanisms of desiccation tolerance and the mechanisms and genes involved in the response of desiccation sensitive plants to water deficits (water stress responses in crops). The purpose of my studies are to transfer the knowledge we gain from understanding how “extremophiles” cope with water deficits into practical approaches for crop improvement strategies for increased drought tolerance. My target crop for improvement is maize. The approach I have developed is a combination of functional and comparative genomics, best described as a merging of plant genomics with phylogenetics.

Much of my current work involves two model plants, the moss Tortula ruralis (as stated above) and the African grass Sporobolus stapfianus, representing the two extremes of the spectrum of mechanisms of desiccation tolerance along with my ultimate target for improvement; maize.

In the models, the approach I have taken is a functional genomics one, the backbone of which involves the establishment of an extensive ESTs database, genomic and BAC libraries, microarrays, and functional assays built upon homologous recombination in bryophytes and transgenics. An extensive EST database for Tortula ruralis has been established and is available publicly and we are in the process of doing the same for Sporobolus stapfianus. We have developed a Tortulagene chip containing a 5,000 member unigene set that has beeen the focal point of an extensive expression profiling analysis. SSH libraries have also been generated for Tortula and Sporobolus, and have been used to generate microarrays for expression profiling experiments. My obvious goal is to identify those genes that play a central role in desiccation tolerance and are adaptive (integral to the evolution of the trait). Once identified then the functional and cellular characteristics of the encoded proteins becomes a research focus. Some of this type of work is ongoing. Molecular, biochemical, biophysical experiments with proteins encoded by previously isolated rehydrin genes are part of the focus in my lab at the moment; in particular a protein that appears to have lipid binding properties and may function as a membrane protection component or in membrane repair. We are currently analyzing transgenic plants, both Arabidopsis and the simpler model Physcomitrella patens (to develop a cellular level assay), that are expressing desiccation responsive genes isolated from Tortula and or Sporobolus to determine if cellular dehydration tolerance in an angiosperm can be improved using moss genes.

In maize our approach is to use a high throughput qRT-PCR assessment of the expression characteristics of key genetic components under several forms of imposed water deficits and drought. This is a new endeavor in the lab reflecting my new position within the genetics efforts within the Unit here in Columbia. The work we are doing is part of collaboration with MU faculty and a means of integrating my work in dehydration tolerance with the goals of our maize genetics program. In addition to the genomic approach to understanding the underlying genetic networks involved in drought tolerance in maize we are also integrating drought tolerance into our trait analysis genetic protocols to identify diversity within existing and exotic maize germplasm that could be used in a more conventional effort for maize improvement.

The work on desiccation tolerance mechanisms has formed the backbone of my career to date but I have also been involved in several biotechnology efforts that have been directed at specific problems in agriculture, e.g., herbicide tolerance, nematode resistance, and transformation methodologies for difficult crops. I also have a major collaborative interest in the area of genetic mechanisms for transgene containment and risk assessment for use of genetically modified crops, in particular grasses, as part of an ongoing project involving researchers at the University of Rhode Island and Clemson University.

 

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2000-Present

Oliver MJ, Murdock AG, Mishler BD, Kuehl JV, Boore JL, Mandoli DF, Everett KDE, Wolf PG, Duffy AM and Karol KG. Chloroplast genome sequence of the moss Tortula ruralis: Gene content, polymorphism, and structural arrangement relative to other green plant chloroplast genomes. BMC Genomics 2010;11(1).

Oliver MJ, Cushman JC and Koster KL. Dehydration tolerance in plants. Methods in Molecular Biology (Clifton, N.J.) 2010;639:3-24.

Koster KL, Balsamo RA, Espinoza C and Oliver MJ. Desiccation sensitivity and tolerance in the moss Physcomitrella patens: Assessing limits and damage. Plant Growth Regulation 2010;62(3):293-302.

Santos AM, Oliver MJ, Sanchez AM, Payton PR, Gomes JP, Miguel C and Oliveira MM. An integrated strategy to identify key genes in almond adventitious shoot regeneration. Journal of Experimental Botany 2009;60(14):4159-4173.

Oliver MJ, Hudgeons J, Dowd SE and Payton PR. A combined subtractive suppression hybridization and expression profiling strategy to identify novel desiccation response transcripts from Tortula ruralis gametophytes. Physiologia Plantarum 2009;136(4):437-460.

Burke JJ, O'Mahony PJ, Oliver MJ and Velten J. A selection procedure for identifying transgenic cells and embryos of cotton without the use of antibiotics. In Vitro Cellular and Developmental Biology - Plant 2008;44(4):246-253.

Stark LR, Oliver MJ, Mishler BD and McLetchie DN. Generational differences in response to desiccation stress in the Desert Moss Tortula inermis. Annals of Botany 2007;99(1):53-60.

Proctor MCF, Oliver MJ, Wood AJ, Alpert P, Stark LR, Cleavitt NL and Mishler BD. Desiccation-tolerance in bryophytes: A review. Bryologist 2007;110(4):595-621.

Peng CA, Oliver MJ and Wood AJ. Is the rehydrin TrDr3 from Tortula ruralis associated with tolerance to cold, salinity, and reduced pH? Physiological evaluation of the TrDr3-orthologue, HdeD from Escherichia coli in response to abiotic stress. Plant Biology 2005;7(3):315-320.

Oliver MJ, Velten J and Mishler BD. Desiccation tolerance in bryophytes: A reflection of the primitive strategy for plant survival in dehydrating habitats? Integrative and Comparative Biology 2005;45(5):788-799.

Oliver MJ, Dowd SE, Zaragoza J, Mauget SA and Payton PR. The rehydration transcriptome of the desiccation-tolerant bryophyte Tortula ruralis: Transcript classification and analysis. BMC Genomics 2004;5.

Farrant JM and Oliver MJ. Desiccation tolerance and sensitivity in plants. Physiologia Plantarum 2004;122(1):1-2.

Burke JJ, Velten J and Oliver MJ. In vitro analysis of cotton pollen germination. Agronomy Journal 2004;96(2):359-368.

Xin Z, Velten JP, Oliver MJ and Burke JJ. High-throughput DNA extraction method suitable for PCR. BioTechniques 2003;34(4):820-826.

Velten J and Oliver MJ. Tr288, A rehydrin with a dehydrin twist. Plant Molecular Biology 2001;45(6):713-722.

O'Mahony PJ and Oliver MJ. The effect of desiccation and rehydration on the integrity of small subunit ribosomal RNAs in desiccation tolerant and intolerant plants. Plant Physiology and Biochemistry 2001;39(1):67-71.

Blair-Kerth LK, Dotray PA, Keeling JW, Gannaway JR, Oliver MJ and Quisenberry JE. Tolerance of transformed cotton to glufosinate. Weed Science 2001;49(3):375-380.

Wood AJ, Oliver MJ and Cove DJ. Bryophytes as model systems. Bryologist 2000;103(1):128-133.

Wood AJ, Duff RJ, Zeng Q and Oliver MJ. Molecular architecture of bryophyte genes: Putative polyadenylation signals in c DNA 3'-ends of the desiccation-tolerant moss Tortula ruralis. Bryologist 2000;103(1):44-51.

Wood AJ, Duff RJ and Oliver MJ. The translational apparatus of Tortula ruralis: Polysomal retention of transcripts encoding the ribosomal proteins RPS14, RPS16 and RPL23 in desiccated and rehydrated gametophytes. Journal of Experimental Botany 2000;51(351):1655-1662.

Oliver MJ, Velten J and Wood AJ. Bryophytes as experimental models for the study of environmental stress tolerance: Tortula ruralis and desiccation-tolerance in mosses. Plant Ecology 2000;151(1):73-84.

Oliver MJ, Tuba Z and Mishler BD. The evolution of vegetative desiccation tolerance in land plants. Plant Ecology 2000;151(1):85-100.

O'Mahony P, Burke JJ and Oliver MJ. Identification of acquired thermotolerance deficiency within the ditelosomic series of 'Chinese Spring' wheat. Plant Physiology and Biochemistry 2000;38(3):243-252.

Burke JJ, O'Mahony PJ and Oliver MJ. Isolation of Arabidopsis mutants lacking components of acquired thermotolerance. Plant Physiology 2000;123(2):575-587.

 

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  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (2012)
  • USDA Certificate of Merit 2004 Outstanding performance award.
  • USDA Certificate of Merit 2003 Superior performance award.
  • USDA Certificate of Merit 2001 Outstanding performance award.
  • USDA Certificate of Merit 2002 Outstanding performance award.
  • USDA Certificate of Merit 2000 Outstanding performance award.
  • Southern Plains Area Senior Scientist of the Year 1999 for Pioneering research accomplishments leading to a more complete understanding of natural stress tolerance mechanisms in plants