Martha’s research focuses on the molecular evolution, biochemistry and genetics of C4 photosynthesis in mono- and dicotyledonous plants.
Martha obtained her BA (summa cum laude) in Biological Sciences from Smith College, Northampton Massachusetts, USA, and her PhD in Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology from McGill University in Montreal Canada.
Martha’s group examines the molecular evolution of photosynthetic pathways. The plants they use in their work are from two evolutionarily significant groups – Flaveria and Neurachninae. What makes these plants special and model systems for their work is that within these groups, some species use C3 photosynthesis, others use C4 photosynthesis, and others use intermediate types of leaf anatomy and photosynthetic biochemistry to fix atmospheric CO2. This means that they can compare very closely related species, which do different types of biochemistry, at the gene and protein levels, making it easy to find the changes (mutations) that occurred in the ancestral genes of C3 species that were responsible for the more advanced intermediate and C4 forms of the genes and proteins. What is also exciting is that all species in the Neurachninae are found only in Australia!
A current focus is on the molecular evolution of carbonic anhydrases in both Flaveria and Neurachninae, and the insights this gives to the evolution of the C4 pathways in both groups. More generally, the group is committed to understanding the anatomical and biochemical steps in the evolution of C4 photosynthesis in the Neurachninae as it is the only grass group with closely related species performing different types of photosynthesis.
The flux of carbon through the C3 and C4 pathways in Flaveria photosynthetic intermediates is another focus, and is being done in collaboration with Mark Stitt’s group at the Max Planck Institute of Plant Physiology.