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Mary Alice Webb

Botany and Plant Pathology 

  • Associate Professor
765.494.0598
765.494.0363
Lilly Hall Room 1-236

Dr. Webb's research interests center on biomineralization, biologically controlled mineral deposition, in plants.  In the same way that animals fabricate biominerals in precise forms, such as bones, teeth, seashells, and spicules, plants also produce specific kinds of biominerals with distinct characteristics. Although biominerals in animals have clearly defined functions, relatively little has been known about their roles in plants.  Most seed plants accumulate some type of biomineral, usually calcium oxalate, calcium carbonate, or silica, and divergent plant taxa exhibit species-specific patterns of mineral type, structure, and distribution.  Dr. Webb's interests have focused on understanding how certain plants synthesize unique needle-shaped crystals of calcium oxalate, called raphides, that provide defense against herbivory.  Raphides develop inside membrane compartments, surrounded by a carbohydrate-rich matrix, within vacuoles of highly specialized cells.  To define the role of the vacuolar matrix in raphide initiation and growth, her research has focused on identifying and characterizing proteins or other macromolecules associated with raphide development.  They also have potential applications in such diverse areas as medicine, materials engineering, and bioenergy.

Recently, Dr. Webb has investigated a role for calcium oxalate in photosynthesis .  The grass, Setaria, viridis, accumulates calcium oxalate crystals in mesophyll cells of the leaves.  During the daytime, crystals decrease in size and exhibit pitting on crystal surfaces. In contrast, during the night crystal size increases and surface pits are no longer present.   

 
Dr. Webb teaches an undergraduate course in Plant Anatomy (BTNY 31600) for plant biology majors, and she also enjoys working with undergraduates on independent research projects. 

Selected Publications

Li, X., Zhang, W., Lu, J., Huang, L., Nan, D., Webb, M., . . . Wang, L. (2014). Templated biomineralization on self-assembled protein nanofibers buried in calcium oxalate raphides of Musa spp. Chemistry of Materials, 26, 3862-3869.

Wyman, A. J., & Webb, M. A. (2007). Calcium oxalate accumulation in malpighian tubules of silkworm (Bombyx mori) 900, 407-411. Retrieved from https://api.elsevier.com/content/abstract/scopus_id/34248138025

Cavaletto, J., Klanrit, P., & Thompson, G. (2001). Orthologs in Arabidopsis thaliana of the Hsp70 interacting protein Hip. Cell Stress and Chaperones, 6, 247-255.

Arnott, H. (2000). Twinned raphides of calcium oxalate in grape (Vitis): implications for crystal stability and function. International Journal of Plant Science, 161, 133-142.

Botany and Plant Pathology, 915 West State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907 USA, (765) 494-4614

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