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Andrei P. Smertenko

Ph.D. 1996, National Academy of Sciences of the Ukraine
Andrei P. Smertenko
Associate Professor, IBC 509-335-5795 Plant Sciences Building 281 1772 NE Stadium Way

Research Interests

Andrei Smertenko started career in Ukraine and worked in Czechia, Germany, Sweden, England, and Northern Ireland before joining Washington State University in 2013 where he is currently an Associate Professor. Smertenko’s laboratory focuses on understanding rules that govern cellular organization and dynamics under normal conditions, and drought and heat stress using diverse experimental techniques including live cell imaging, protein biochemistry, genetics, phenotyping, computational analysis, and modeling. Our model systems are Arabidopsis thaliana, Triticum aestivum, Brachypodium distachyon, Nicotiana benthamiana, and Nicotiana tabacum. The work in his laboratory focuses on the following directions.

Plant tissue engineering. Engineering of plant tissues offers exciting opportunities to advance biomass production and adaptation to environmental conditions. However, despite significant progress in understanding the upstream signaling events that govern architecture of plant tissues, the effector proteins remain poorly characterized. Two processes govern construction of plant tissues: relative position of cells and cell shape. The relative position of cells is determined during cell division by a specialized structure, known as the phragmoplast. The phragmoplast moves through the cytoplasm to synthetize cell plate, a partition between daughter cells, in the right plane. That makes the phragmoplast the largest known intracellular structure capable of self-propelled directional motility. The phragmoplast motility is driven by microtubule polymerization and depolymerization. One project aims at functional characterization of proteins responsible for regulation of microtubules in the phragmoplast and how these proteins contribute to the phragmoplast motility. The second project studies activity of microtubule effectors and their contribution to cell shape and cell differentiation during interphase. This direction is supported by the NSF-MCB.

Cellular mechanisms of self-protection against stress inflicted damages. All stresses compromise plant health and productivity by damaging cells. This direction focuses on developing and implementing orgenellomics approaches for phenotyping cellular mechanisms of resiliency to heat and drought stress. Organellomics is a set of experimental approaches for characterizing structural diversity and quantifying the abundance of organelles in individual cells, tissues, or organs. The approach is based on knowledge that heat and drought perturb redox homeostasis leading to accumulation of ROS. ROS cause oxidative damage to all cellular components that can kill the cells. It is likely that plants with a more robust redox homeostasis are likely to perform better under stress. Measuring redox homeostasis on a population level, however, has been complicated by short lifetime of ROS, and chemical diversity of ROS and ROS scavenging reactions, each requiring individualized techniques for detection and quantification. For these reasons, variability redox homeostasis in the germplasm has not been systematically analyzed. Smertenko’s lab uses peroxisome abundance as the proxy of redox homeostasis for identifying cellular self-protection mechanisms responsible for ameliorating oxidative damage. This work is supported by FFAR Seeding Solutions, USDA-NIFA, CRDF, OA Vogel Wheat Research Fund, and Washington Grain Commission.

Current research projects in the lab focus on:

  1. Regulation of microtubule nucleation and dynamics during cytokinesis.
  2. Organellomics of cellular resiliency to heat and drought stress in leaves and flowers.
  3. Genetics of embolism prevention in metaxylem vessels.