Bachelor of Science with a major in Chemistry, Fairfield University 1975

Ph.D. in Radiochemistry, Texas A&M University 1979

Postdoctoral Fellow, Brookhaven National Laboratory 1979-1980.


Plant stress biology leveraging imaging technologies and radiometabolite flux analysis.

Agriculture in the 21st century faces formidable challenges: on the one hand, it has to produce more food and fiber to feed a growing population, while on the other it has to increase biomass feedstocks for an increasing bioenergy and chemical commodities market. Projections show that feeding a world population of 9.1 billion people in 2050 will require raising overall food production by more than 50 percent. Production in developing countries will need to almost double. To meet the rising challenge in global food security alone, agriculture will need to adopt more efficient and sustainable crop management practices that will enable farmers to produce higher yields from the same acreage of arable land. Amidst this global agricultural crisis, farmers are also facing many other challenges that can severely impact daily crop performance. For example, plant stress and underperformance can manifest from a number of environmental influences including; nutrient starvation due to lack of inputs or competition belowground with the microbiome, extreme changes in climatic conditions (e.g. heat, cold, drought, flooding), and predatory attack by herbivores.

The relationship between plants, microbes and their surrounding environment is highly complex since each can exert an influence on the other. For example, the exchange of carbon and nitrogen resources between plants and the soil microbiome can accelerate plant root development, thereby providing plants with better access to nutrients and water and reducing the need for irrigation and soil amendments. These relationships can also help mitigate plant stress to climatic extremes. Understanding these relationships is not only critical to stabilizing our future global food securities, but is also critical to improving our environment through improved terrestrial carbon cycling, and/or the development and management of renewable energy resources that could offset global reliance on fossil fuels.

Furthermore, the relationships and chemical dynamics responsible for the flow of information and materials that occurs at the interface between plants and microbes and their environment can encompass enormous spatial and temporal scales. Their exploration and integration from subcellular through to whole ecosystem levels requires a multitude of imaging technologies.

Research in the Ferrieri Lab focuses on plant stress biology and uses a combination of radioactive and stable isotope tracer technologies involving nuclear imaging (PET/SPECT/Autoradiography), MS-based imaging and metabolic flux analysis to aid in their examination of source-sink relations, and address questions on metabolic regulation, basic plant physiology and growth traits.  Plant stress and underperformance can result from a number of environmental influences including: nutrient starvation due to lack of inputs; natural competition belowground from other plants and other organisms in the microbiome; pressures from extreme changes in climatic conditions (e.g. heat, cold, drought, flooding); and predatory attack by herbivores.  The group’s interest in recent years has been to understand the regulation of root growth under times of plant stress.  The root system is perhaps the most important agronomic trait underpinning a plant’s ability to survive in the real-world, yet it is the least studied part of the plant.  Roots perform multiple critical functions in a complex soil environment including their ability to access water and essential nutrients. Root surfaces represent an indispensable interface for interactions with the rhizosphere microbial communities. Root architecture and growth rate characteristics can critically influence the temporal and spatial constraints for carbon and nitrogen mobilization across scales of the whole plant, and for regulating metabolism of these resources. The group routinely uses short-lived radiotracers such as11C (t1/2 20 min), administered to plants as carbon dioxide and 13N (t1/2 10 min), administered to roots as either nitrate, ammonium or dinitrogen, or to leaves as ammonia, as a way to rapidly and efficiently insert radioactive probes into various parts of a plant’s metabolic machinery.  However, complex communication networks are often established within the plant that are underpinned by hormone biosynthesis and hormone transport between tissues and organs.  These networks can also play crucial roles in regulating carbon and nitrogen utilization which can impact plant growth characteristics. For this reason, the group often relies on complex organic chemistry to tag plant hormones and their biosynthetic precursors with isotopes of carbon (11C or 13C) and of nitrogen (13Nor 15N) enabling application of nuclear and MS-based analyses on hormone regulation.

Select Publications

W. Qu, C.A.M. Robert, M. Erb, B.E. Hibbard, M. Paven, T. Gleede, B. Riehl, L. Kersting, A.S. Cankaya, A.T. Kunert, Y. Xu, M.J. Schueller, C. Shea, D. Alexoff, S.J. Lee, J.S. Fowler, R.A. Ferrieri, “Dynamic precision phenotyping reveals mechanisms of crop tolerance to root herbivory,” Plant Physiology special focus issue on Ecophysiology 2016 (DOI:10.1104/pp.16.00735).

V.C.S. Pankievicz, F.P. Amaral , K.F.D. Santos, B. Agtuca, Y. Xu, M.J. Schueller, A.C.M. Arisi, M.B.R. Steffens, E.M. de Souza, F.O. Pedrosa, G. Stacey, R.A. Ferrieri (2015) `Robust biological nitrogen fixation in a model grass-bacterial association,” The Plant Journal 2015, 81, 907-919.

A.Karve, D. Alexoff; D. Kim; M.J. Schueller, R.A. Ferrieri; B. Babst, `In vivo quantitative imaging of photoassimilate transport dynamics and allocation in large plants using a commercial positron emission tomography (PET) scanner,” BMC Plant Biology 2015, 15, 273-284.

D. Kim, D.L. Alexoff, M.J. Schueller, B.A. Babst, R.A. Ferrieri, J.S. Fowler, D.J. Schlyer, “The design and performance of a portable handheld11CO2 delivery system,” Appl. Rad. & Isotopes, 2015, 94, 338-343.

C.A.M. Robert, R.A. Ferrieri, S. Schirmer, B.A. Babst, M.J. Schueller, R.A.R. Machado, C.C.M. Arce, B.E. Hibbard, J. Gershenzon, T.C.J. Turlings, M. Erb, “Induced carbon reallocation and compensatory growth as root herbivore tolerance mechanisms,” Plant Cell & Environment 2014, 37, 2613-2622.

B. Agtuca, E. Rieger, K. Hilger, L. Song, C. Robert, M. Erb, A. Karve, R.A. Ferrieri “Carbon-11 reveals opposing roles of auxin and salicylate in regulating leaf physiology, leaf metabolism and resource allocation patterns that impact root growth in Zea mays,” J Plant Growth Regulation, 2014, 33, 328-339.

A.P. Ferrieri, B. Agtuca, H. Appel, R.A. Ferrieri, J.C. Schultz, “Getting to the root of the problem: methyl jasmonate induces temporal changes in carbon transport and partitioning in Arabidopsis thaliana that depend on root-shoot signaling,” Plant Physiol., 2013, 161, 692-704.

C.A.M. Robert, N. Veyrat, G. Glauser, G. Marti, G. Doyen, N. Villard, M.D.P. Gaillard, T.G. Kollner, D. Giron, M. Body, B.A. Babst, R.A. Ferrieri, T.C.J. Turlings, M. Erb, “Optimal pest foraging beats optimal crop defense: How a specialist herbivore uses defensive metabolites to locate nutritious roots,” Ecology Letter, 2012, 15, 55-64.

S. Gómez, A.D. Steinbrenner, S. Osorio, M. Schueller, R.A. Ferrieri, A.R. Fernie, C.M. Orians, “From shoots to roots: transport and metabolic changes in tomato after feeding by a specialist lepidopteran,” Entomol.Experimentalis et. Applicata, 2012, 144 101 -111.

D.L. Alexoff, S.M. Dewey, P. Vaska, R.A. Ferrieri, M.J. Schueller, D.J. Schlyer, J.S. Fowler, “PET imaging of escaping positrons from the leaf of a Nicotiana tabacum,” Nucl. Med. & Biol., 2011, 38, 191-200.

M. Best, K. Koenig, K. McDonald, M. Schueller, D. Alexoff, A. Rogers, R.A. Ferrieri, “Inhibition of trehalose metabolism impacts recent carbon partitioning into cell-wall components and reduces shoot-to-root ratio in Nicotiana tabacum.,” Carbohydrate Res. 2011, 346, 595-601.

M. Best, K. Koenig, K. McDonald, M. Schueller, D. Alexoff, A. Rogers, R.A. Ferrieri, “Inhibition of trehalose metabolism impacts recent carbon partitioning into cell-wall components and reduces shoot-to-root ratio in Nicotiana tabacum,” Carbohydrate Res. 2011, 346, 595-601.

N. Hanik, S. Gómez, M. Best, M. Schueller, C.M. Orians, R.A. Ferrieri, “Partitioning of new carbon as 11C in Nicotiana tabacum reveals new insight into methyl jasmonate induced changes in metabolism,” J. Chem. Ecol. 2010, 36, 1058-1067.

S. Gómez, R.A. Ferrieri, M.J. Schueller, C.M. Orians, “Methyl jasmonate elicits rapid changes in carbon and nitrogen dynamics in tomato,” New Phytol., 2010, 188, 835-844.

N. Hanik, S. Gómez, M. Schueller, C.M. Orians, R.A. Ferrieri, “Use of gaseous 13NH3 administered to intact leaves of Nicotiana tabacum to study changes in nitrogen utilization during defense induction,” Plant Cell & Environ., 2010, 33, 2173-2179.

M.C.K. Kasel, M.J. Schueller and R.A. Ferrieri, “Optimizing [13N]N2 radiochemistry for imaging nitrogen-fixation in root nodules of legumes,” J. Label Cmpds & Radiopharm. 2010, 53, 592-597.

D. van der Lelie, S. Taghavi, S. Monchy, L. Miller, R.A. Ferrieri, A. Rogers, N. Weyens, J. Vangronsveld, L. Newman, “Poplar and its bacterial endophytes: co-existence and harmony,” Critical Rev. Plant Sci. 2009, 28, 346-358.

B.A. Babst, R.A. Ferrieri, M.R. Thorpe, C.M. Orians, “Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) herbivory induces rapid changes in carbon transport and partitioning in Populus,” Entomologia Experimentalis et. Applicata., 2008, 117 -125.

R.A. Ferrieri, D.W. Gray, B.A. Babst, M.J. Schueller, D.J. Schlyer, M.R. Thorpe, C.M. Orians, M. Lerdau, “Use of carbon-11 in Populus shows that exogenous jasmonic acid increases biosynthesis of isoprene from recently fixed carbon,” Plant, Cell & Environment, 2005, 25, 591-602.

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