Planting A Bountiful Partnership

Silmara Correia in the lab

NC State’s global partnerships create solutions to society’s grand challenges. That’s what Silmara Correia and Colleen Doherty seek to do in a partnership with NC State, Kansas State University and Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Correia, a doctoral student from Brazil, and Doherty, an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular and Structural Biochemistry, study breeding rice plants for growth in Brazil, one of the world’s top ten rice-producing countries. They work with Krishna Jagadish, associate professor in the Department of Agronomy at Kansas State University, a well-known plant physiologist with expertise in high-temperature stress in rice plants.

rice plants Correia contacted Dr. Jagadish about doing a “sandwich doctorate,” an opportunity to work outside her home university for part of her Ph.D. program to gain experience in a new skill. He referred her to Doherty, as she had expressed an interested in what is occurring at a molecular level in Brazilian rice varieties in response to heat, which is Doherty’s area of expertise.

Thus, a partnership began. Correia had already identified some Brazilian rice varieties that showed a difference in response to heat and collected tissue samples from these varieties. She and Doherty Skyped to create a plan for her to work in Doherty’s lab to complete the molecular analysis, and Correia came to campus in spring 2017.

“In Brazil, high temperature stress, which is devastating to rice plants, is a concern of researchers as it impacts global food security,” said Correia. “Rice is an important crop for my home state of Rio Grande do Sul, which is responsible for 70 percent of the rice produced in Brazil. “I wanted to come to NC State to complement my studies at UFRGS Brazil and gain experience with transcriptional analysis and exposure to RNA sequencing techniques and analysis.”

In Doherty’s lab, Correia performed RNA-sequencing analysis in rice panicle using two contrasting Brazilian cultivars (tolerant and sensitive). This technique examines how the plant responds to heat stress. The plant’s genome, or DNA contains the instructions to make thousands of proteins. Under heat stress the plant undergoes a lot of changes in an attempt to adapt to that heat stress. These changes are enabled by turning on or off different portions of the genome to make or shut off different proteins.

Using RNA-sequencing, researchers can examine which genes the plant has decided to turn on. They can compare which genes are turned on in the different varieties to how the plant performs under heat stress. Examining the differences between the heat tolerant and sensitive varieties helps determine what genes contribute to a good decision in the tolerant genotype and a bad decision in the sensitive genotype.

“During her time here, Silmara’s expertise in rice husbandry and plant physiology has really helped advance research in my laboratory,” said Doherty. “Because of this collaboration, we have been able to expand our research to include understanding how high temperatures affect the growth of rice plants from around the world. Understanding this will help us to connect the effects of heat in other crops besides rice.”Silmara Correia

Correia seeks to continue the international collaboration between NC State and UFRGS through research funding opportunities. She and her fellow researchers are planning new experiments and are interested in sending Brazilian students to NC State and having UFRGS host American students. These initiatives will help the continued exchange of knowledge amongst the involved universities and could lead to high-impact published research.

“Rice is one of the world’s most important sources of food for human nutrition, serving as a staple food for more than three billion people,” said Correia. “Understanding how rice varieties react to heat stress and addressing those and other environmental challenges will aid in the development of more tolerant crops, allowing the maintenance or increase of the productive potential of rice and other agricultural crops.”

More productive rice varieties may aid in finding a solution to the food insecurity that impacts so many in Brazil and other countries around the world. And NC State continues to provide the research and learning opportunities to help that happen.