Leni Campbell-Clause

Posted: Jun 10th, 2024

PhD Student

I am a plant geneticist currently pursuing a PhD in Ian Small's lab at the University of Western Australia, within the Plant Energy Biology node of the ARC Centre of Excellence Plants for Space. My research focuses on molecular genetics, specifically the post-transcriptional regulation of the chloroplast genome. I aim to advance the field by identifying binding sites of RNA-binding proteins to investigate their function in controlling chloroplast gene expression.

Genes in the chloroplast genome are fundamental in facilitating essential processes for photosynthesis. Chloroplast gene functionality is strongly dependent on regulatory control from the nucleus which influences chloroplast gene transcription, post-transcriptional RNA modifications, and therefore protein translation. Nuclear-encoded RNA-binding proteins (RBPs), such as pentatricopeptide repeat (PPR) proteins, play an essential role in the processing of chloroplast RNA transcripts. RBPs are known to interact with chloroplast cis-elements, altering the transcript and therefore dictating gene expression.

My PhD project enables the discovery of RNA-binding proteins and their associated cis-elements through the development of a high-throughput bioinformatic pipeline. This novel approach utilises next-generation sequencing data, reducing the reliance on low throughput, biochemical laboratory methodologies whilst allowing us to make informed predictions on the regulatory function of RBPs. A comprehensive understanding of chloroplast genome regulation is necessary for the goal of using chloroplasts as bio-factories to produce useful products such as RNA, proteins, and secondary metabolites. This project will not only enlighten us on the regulatory processes involved in chloroplast gene expression but also aid biotechnologists looking to control transgene expression in chloroplasts.

Prior to starting my PhD, I contributed to crop protection technology at Bioscience Pty Ltd., where I managed various aspects of research from isolating plant pathogens to conducting field trials. This experience provided me with a practical understanding of applied biotechnology and the challenges faced in agricultural practice. I completed a Master of Biotechnology in Mick Considine's lab at the University of Western Australia, where my research delved into the intricate world of epigenetic regulation and explored the impact of DNA methyltransferase inhibitors on dormancy. As I progress in my academic journey, I remain committed to unraveling genetic complexities and contributing meaningful insights to the scientific community. My long-term goal is to leverage my expertise to develop innovative solutions that address global challenges such as food security and environmental sustainability.