When many of us look at a plant, we see a collection of stems and leaves. If it’s flowering, we might notice the shape or the color of its blossoms. When Liang Song looks at plants, she sees millions of years of evolution. And she marvels at all the adaptations that particular plant has had to make through evolutionary history to be growing where she has found it, on a hike or while traveling in a foreign land.
Song, who grew up in China, has always been fascinated by flora. As a young child one of her favorite games was collecting different flowers and presenting them on a plate, like a chef with a signature dish. Later, as an undergraduate, she studied ecology. While surveying the spread of Solidago canadensis, an invasive plant from North America, Song was introduced to some techniques from molecular biology. Always interested in learning novel approaches to address fundamental scientific questions in a new way, she decided to get her PhD in that field.
Today, as a research associate in Joseph Ecker’s lab, Song studies the crosstalk of plant hormones (“phytohormones”) in the weed Arabidopsis thaliana. Specifically, she employs high- throughput sequencing to examine the myriad transcripts, or protein- making instructions, produced when the phytohormone abscisic acid (ABA) begins cascades of chemical chatter in response to an environmental stressor, such as drought.