Mar 29th, 2021

Dr. Niky Hughes and Students Publish Research in Plant Science

Dr. Niky Hughes, associate professor of biology and her students Brooke Willans, Class of 2019; and Michaela Connors, Class of 2020; recently published research in Plant Science. Their article, titled “The same anthocyanins served four different ways: Insights into anthocyanin structure-function relationships from the wintergreen orchid, Tipularia discolor,”  is about  anthocyanin pigments in plants, which are colorful pigments that impart red, purple and blue colors in leaves, flowers and stems.

Plants make more than 500 different types of anthocyanin pigments, and Hughes’ lab is researching reasons why plants would make one form over another. For this project, they were studying anthocyanins in native orchids that exhibit a broad range of leaf pigment patterns. Leaves emerge from the ground in fall appearing dull brown in color. When they are fully expanded, leaves exhibit bright magenta colored lower surfaces, and either green, purple or spotted upper leaf surfaces. Hughes and her students were curious which anthocyanins the plant would use for each, and whether they would be different. This might provide a clue as to what their ultimate functions are, since different anthocyanins have different properties. “What we were surprised to discover was that the plant was able to achieve these broad ranges of color, which likely serve different functions, using the same three anthocyanins,” says Hughes. “Nobody has ever shown that plants can do that.