Research: Dr J.C. Jang studies unique group of proteins linked to drought and cold tolerance

Dr. J.C. Jang

Did this year's drought kill your crops and plants?  Dr. J.C. Jang is working on that.
While studying a unique group of proteins, Dr. Jang's lab discovered that the protein TZF could help create plants with tolerence to drough and cold.

image: When protein TZF is overexpressed (right column), plants survive better in drought conditions (top row) and cold conditions (bottom row).

Dr. J.C. Jang's lab is currently exploring the protein TZF ("Tandem Zinc Finger" for those interested). When he began to knock out or overexpress the genes which create TZF, he noticed some very unusual phenotypes developing in the plants.  When TZF levels were high in Arabidopsis, it became EXTREMELY tolerant to drought and cold.  It is very interesting for such powerful phenotypic response from just one gene responsible for one protein type.  His current research revolves around WHY.  The lab's ongoing work focuses on uncovering the molecular, cellular, genetic, and biochemical pathways behind the protein and the phenotype being observed. 


Because this phenomenal response to drought and cold (AKA Stress) could benefit agriculture, Dr. Jang's lab has collaborated with HCS faculty Dr. John Finer to extend the technology into food crops.  Collaborating with Dr. Finer, they have worked to "fish-out" the homologs of the TZF gene (genes that create proteins that do the same thing as TZF from arabidopsis) in soybean.  Dr. Finer has since created transgenic lines of soybean that overexpress the TZF homologs to see if they could create soybeans resistant to cold and drought.  Initial results suggest that these homolog genes do indeed have a similar function to TZF in the model, Arabidopsis.

But how can one protein create such a powerful change in the phenotype of a plant?  Dr. Jang has a hypothesis as to why.  It is hypothesized that perhaps TZF is involved in the overall regulation of gene expression.  It is not a transcription factor, a protein switch that could turn on or off gene expression, but is rather a regulator of messenger RNA (mRNA) stability.  By stabilizing or de-stabilizing mRNAs, the translation of mRNAs into protein can be fine-tuned in response to internal and external cues.  This results in more balanced enzymatic activity and more effective cellular processes as a whole.  HOW the TZF accomplishes this, if this is true, is still a mystery yet to be discovered in the lab.

Contributing to the overall picture is a recent discovery.  A new cellular structure was discovered now known as Stress Granules.  Thought to be an evolutionary survival mechanism, the granules form under stress from aggregates of mRNAs and proteins.  The Jang lab has found that the TZF protein can shuttle between the nucleus and Stress Granules. And how it functions within the granule is one of many next steps in the Jang Lab. 

Students interested in working on manipulating the genetics of plants to discover how this protein works on the molecular, cellular, and biochemical level are welcome to work in Dr. Jang's lab.  Students interested in creating cold and drought- food crops or flower crops can work with Dr. Jang in collaboration with other HCS faculty.


Dr. Jang's laboratory is located in the Center for Applied Plant Science in Rightmire Hall on West Campus in Columbus.  Dr. Jang holds a joint appointment in the Departments of Horticulture & Crop Sciences and Molecular Genetics.