Internship: Chlorophyll fluorescence to understand complex stress responses in plants

Talent Vharachumu, undergraduate student intern in 2019, used chlorophyll fluorescence to assess heat tolerance in citrus leaves.

Florida has several fascinating subtropical and tropical flora. The abundant sunshine and mild winter of Florida prolong the physiological activities of the plants leading to a longer growth season compared to other cooler landscapes. But too much sunshine than what is metabolically desired often leads to serious physiological stress. Evolution has led to plants that can handle such surplus light energy. But what happens under more complex stress situations? For example, Florida has been witnessing a progressive climatic warming, and new disease and pest outbreaks. Plant’s defense mechanisms face a stupendous challenge when handling such multiple stressors and failure to do so can threaten species long-term sustainability. At the Tree Physiology Laboratory at the University of Florida’s Citrus Research and Education Center (Lake Alfred, FL), we are studying how the tropical evergreen citrus trees respond to the complex agroclimatic niche of central Florida that includes warming events, high sunlight energy and greening (a systemic plant disease).

One of our approaches is to decode the chlorophyll fluorescence signals that citrus leaves emit back to nature while harvesting sunlight. These long wavelength, invisible fluorescence spectrums though emitted out, they carry valuable information on leaves bioenergetic processes and overall photosynthetic performance. We use different high throughput fluorometers to monitor real-time plant fluorescence emission signals, study signal patterns and use the signal-derived variables as biophysical markers for comparative stress physiology studies.

We are looking for undergraduate student interns who are excited to work with plants and interested in taking up short-term projects on plant stress physiology using chlorophyll fluorescence approaches. We do not expect the students to have a deep understanding of chlorophyll fluorescence or photobiology as our projects are designed for hands-on learning and gradual concept building. We will offer research projects that are either experimental (in field and controlled environment settings) or meta-analysis (literature review, data analysis, and interpretation) depending on student’s interest and the availability of lab projects. Please contact civince@ufl.edu or anirbanguha@ufl.edu if interested in joining us for the summer. Interns are paid. We will begin the selection process after April 16, so please contact us before then.