Research Interests: Plant Reproductive Development, Gamete Identity and Function, Cell-Cell Communication
Dr. Boavida’s lab investigates the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate cell-cell recognition in plant fertilization. Fertilization is defined by the fusion of two haploid sex cells or gametes, the sperm and egg, which produce a diploid zygote that initiates a very sophisticated developmental program. However, this definition of fertilization does not capture the full scope of important cellular events that evolved as a hallmark of flowering plants: the occurrence of two separate gametic fusions (double fertilization). In addition to the sperm-egg cell fusion, a second sperm fuse with a sister female gamete, the central cell to produce the endosperm whose function is to nurture the developing embryo within the seed. This means that flowering plants likely evolved a new signal transduction machinery to ensure a robust recognition between male and female gametes. In this context is important that we address the following questions: which molecular factors mediate gamete interactions? Is there molecular specificity for the two distinct fusion events? Do these factors perform specific functions in recognition, activation, adhesion, and/or fusion of the gametes? What is the interplay between gamete recognition events and downstream signaling pathways leading to seed development? Are these factors, species–specific? We are now focused on the functions of scaffolding proteins and other transmembrane partners that have been recently identified as mediators of gamete interactions. Our aim is to build a comprehensive “fertilization interactome” that will allow us not only to have a better understanding of gamete factors and signaling pathways controlling plant gamete interactions but also to quiz the network concerning evolutionary aspects of the fertilization process and other important biological processes such as speciation, avoidance of inbreeding, hybridization or prevention of polyspermy.