Olena Vatamaniuk is Associate Professor of Molecular Biology of Abiotic Stress in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at Cornell University. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Botany at Lviv State University, Ukraine in 1992 and Ph.D. in Plant Physiology at Lviv State and Kyiv State Universities, Ukraine. Driven by the desire to extend her expertise from physiology to molecular biology and biochemistry she joined Dr. Phil Rea’s group at the University of Pennsylvania, USA for postdoctoral studies were she focused on molecular mechanisms of phytochelatin-dependent heavy metal detoxification in plants. Finding that the phytochelatin-dependent pathway, formerly suggested to be restricted to plants and some fungi, operates in at least some animals, the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, prompted her to gain additional expertise in C. elegans biology, at the Department of Genetics of University of Pennsylvania. She joined the Cornell faculty in 2005. Her research program focuses on analyses of transition metals homeostasis and crosstalk between essential and toxic metals in plants and C. elegans.
We study the molecular mechanisms of heavy metal detoxification. Heavy metals (e.g. cadmium [Cd2+], arsenic [As3+], mercury [Hg2+] and lead [Pb2+] are metallic elements with densities exceeding 5 g/cm3. At the cellular level, the toxicity of heavy metals results from the displacement of endogenous co-factors from their cellular binding sites, thiol-capping of essential proteins, and promotion of the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). At the organismal level these effects result in damaged mental and central nervous function, dysfunction of vital organs, and, in acute cases, cancer.
We use two model systems, the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, and the model invertebrate animal, the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, to study common and unique mechanisms used by different species for heavy metal detoxification. Specifically, we are interested in transport processes, essential for the maintenance of the concentration of heavy metals and by-products of metal toxicity in the cytosol below the limits of toxicity.
My goals as an educator are: 1) to foster student’s mastery of course material while at the same time facilitate the development of critical thinking and communication; 2) to train the new generation of plant/crop biologists appreciating that understanding of the mechanisms of the underlying biological processes is crucial for molecular breeding for desired traits in improving crop performance. I strive to integrate these teaching premises into two upper-level courses that I teach.
CSS/BioPL 642: Mineral Nutrition: From Plants to Humans
This course includes several learning modules: 1) Lectures dedicated to analyses of events that happen at soil/plant root interface, including transport systems and driving forces responsible for the uptake of mineral nutrients from the soil solution, and radial and long-distance transport. 2) A module dealing with discussing molecular and biochemical techniques and demonstration of some of the approaches that are used for analyses of nutrient uptake and status of plants as well as assessment of soil health. 3) A module in which we discuss the mechanism of uptake and the role of individual mineral nutrients and effects of toxic mineral elements on plants’ growth and development. Here we also discuss the necessity for balanced mineral nutrition for yield and its impact on human health. In my lectures, I take advantage from the upper level of the course and ever so often I use examples from the original literature to promote classroom discussions. I believe that this approach stimulates critical thinking, ability to tackle complex ideas, and exposes students to real-life experimental situations. 4) Selected lectures focus on the relation between the nutrient status of plants and human nutrition and health 5) In the last module, I used an “active learning” approach where students review original literature about a selected mineral element, summarize their literature research in a paper, and present it in-class to peers. This approach improves critical thinking, writing, communication and presentation skills, while developing confidence in group presentations through practice. Anonymous student feedback was strongly supportive of the course and its design: “I like this course, which covers a large variety of topics, very interesting, opened my eyes and expanded my horizon of views”. “Course covers a lot of material that was daunting at times due to my limited plant biology background (in course work). I have much better understanding of plant mineral nutrition and its impacts now”. “Olena did a great job organizing and developing a course that is much needed and valuable at Cornell.”
CSS 610: Physiology of Plant Responses to Environmental Stresses. I co-teach this course with Dr. Setter, who is the primary instructor. My intellectual input to the course lies primarily in the area of molecular biology and biochemistry and is synergistic to Dr. Setter’s extensive expertise in plant physiology.
- Jung, H. I., Zhai, Z., & Vatamaniuk, O. K. (2011). Direct Transfer of Synthetic Double-Stranded RNA into Protoplasts of Arabidopsis thaliana. Methods in Molecular Biology. 744:109-127.
- Yu, D., Danku, J., Baxter, I., Kim, S., Vatamaniuk, O. K., Salt, D. E., & Vitek, O. (2011). Noise reduction in genome-wide perturbation screens using linear mixed-effect models. Bioinformatics. 27:2173-2180.
- Schwartz, M. S., Benci, J. L., Selote, D., Sharma, A., Chen, A., Dang, H., Fares, H., & Vatamaniuk, O. K. (2010). Detoxification of multiple heavy metals by a half-molecule ABC transporter HMT-1 and coelomocytes of Caenorhabditis elegans. PLoS One. 5:e9564.
- Kim, S., Selote, D., & Vatamaniuk, O. K. (2010). The N-terminal extension domain of the C. elegans half-molecule ABC transporter, HMT-1, is required for protein-protein interactions and function. PLoS One. 5: e12938.
- Mendoza-Cózatl, D. G., Zhai, Z., Jobe, T. O., Akmakjian, G. Z., Song, W., Limbo, O., Russell, M. R., Kozlovskyy, V. I., Martinoia, E., Vatamaniuk, O. K., Russell, P., & Schroeder, J. I. (2010). Tonoplast-localized Abc2 Transporter Mediates Phytochelatin Accumulation in Vacuoles and Confers Cadmium Tolerance. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 285:40416-40426.
- Zhai, Z., Jung, H., & Vatamaniuk, O. K. (2009). Isolation of protoplasts from tissues of 14-days-old seedlings of Arabidopsis thaliana.. Journal of Visual Experiments. 17:1149.