Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology


Plant Biology

First Advisor

Olga A. Zabotina


Plants have developed specialized mechanisms for dealing with different stresses. For example, biotic stresses are sensed extracellularly, through Cell Wall Integrity (CWI) control. CWI control is a complex system that works via a set of receptors and signaling networks that allow cells to sense pathogens and initiate defense responses. This dissertation aims to uncover cell wall-mediated mechanisms and underlying signaling of CWI using post-synthetic modification of plant cell walls by microbial cell wall degrading enzymes (CWDEs).

We first compared CWI in Arabidopsis thaliana and Brachypodium distachyon plants expressing a Ferulic Acid Esterase (AnFAE). Both species exhibited reduced cell wall recalcitrance and increased susceptibility to fungal necrotrophs. Changes in gene expression after fungal necrotroph infection indicated distinct CWI control mechanisms between Arabidopsis and Brachypodium plants. To determine underlying signaling, we analyzed the transcriptome and metabolome of AnFAE-expressing Arabidopsis, as well as two previously characterized acetylesterases, AnAXE and AnRAE. Transcriptome analysis uncovered discrete cellular responses between all three genotypes, including candidate genes such as transcription factors and stress response genes. Correlation of transcriptome and metabolome data yielded enrichments in primary metabolic pathways that contribute to specialized metabolism for each transgenic line. Another Arabidopsis transgenic line expressing a pectin methylesterase (AnPME) was analyzed for phenotypic effects of cell wall de-esterification. AnPME plants have significantly reduced cell wall methylation and dramatic growth defects such as reduction of root and hypocotyl length as a result of decreased cell expansion. AnPME plants also exhibit changes in wall degradability and response to pathogens. Ongoing research focuses on reporter gene expression to explore spatiotemporal CWI control.

In these studies, we have shown that plants sense specific changes in the cell wall, and initiate discrete metabolic responses in response to extracellular changes. These cell wall and metabolic changes have profound effects on plant phenotype and morphology, as well as defense responses.

Copyright Owner

Nathan T. Reem



File Format


File Size

189 pages