Investigating a Key Plant Hormone: Dr. Lucia Strader

Headshot of Dr. Lucia Strader, blonde woman with shoulder-length hair


In this episode of BioGist, Alex Hong (class of 2024) interviews Dr. Lucia Strader. Dr. Strader is an Associate Professor of Biology at Duke.

Listen about how Dr. Strader spends her days studying the plant hormone auxin, its impact on agronomy and biology, and her time outside the lab.

To find out more about Dr. Strader, visit her lab website at, and follow her on Twitter @labstrader.

Listen here




plant, auxin, grow, duke university, hormone, biology, germination, molecular biology, Arabidopsis


Dr. Lucia Strader, Alex Hong

Alex Hong  00:02

Welcome to BioGist, where we bring you the gist of biology at Duke University. Hello, my name is Alex Hong, and I'm a freshman at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Today I'm talking with Dr. Strader, who is an Associate Professor in biology here at Duke University. Thank you so much for meeting with me, Dr. Strader.

Dr. Lucia Strader  00:20

Of course, it's my pleasure.

Alex Hong  00:21

So for our first question, what do you study?

Dr. Lucia Strader  00:24

My laboratory is interested in understanding how plants grow and develop. So a lot of us know a lot about how animals develop. And plants are quite different in that nearly every aspect of plant development takes place post embryonically. So you can imagine for a plant when it germinates, it's born without any of its major organs, it has to develop those later. And so we're really interested in this because it's a key feature to help plants grow because it doesn't know where it's going to germinate. And it needs to form organs appropriate for wherever it ends up. So plants need to be able to develop to adapt to their environments. This includes things like its light, or temperature, or wounding responses, and, probably everyone listening has also seen this: if you grow a plant that is exposed to directional light, it's going to grow towards that light. So you've probably done this, if you've ever planted a tomato plant a little bit too close to the house, and you see all of the branches not growing upward, but rather growing at an angle towards the light to get out from under the shade. The plant hormone auxin regulates this directional growth, because what happens is the very tip of that seedling senses is directional light and makes this hormone. And then this hormone is only sent down the side of this plant away from the light, and then it stimulates the cells on that side of the plant to expand. So you can imagine that if you have expansion on one side of an organ, but not the other, that's going to cause that organ as a whole to bend, right? Because you're you're going to have pressure from one side, and then have the issues and the other side give way to their pressure. So that's an example of how one of the hormones that we're super interested in regulates how a plant develops when it finds itself in a new environment.

Alex Hong  02:19

Yeah, that's awesome. So let's move on to our next question, which is, why do you study the auxin hormone?

Dr. Lucia Strader  02:25

So I think from the time I was a young child, I was always fascinated with plants, in part because I spend a lot of I spent a lot of my free time just wandering in the woods and looking at stuff. In fact, I won the science fair in seventh grade, and the plant biology division of the science fair, so this has really been a long standing interest for me. However, I'm also a first generation high school graduate. And so when I graduated from high school and I was just thinking about college, I didn't really understand how to translate that love of plants into a career. And so my undergraduate major was agronomy, which is the study of how farming works. So I studied farming as an undergraduate. And then from doing that, I got really interested in how seeds germinate. Seed germination is regulated by plant hormones. So then I got interested in plant hormones. And, of course, auxin is the most important plant hormone. So eventually, I built my career on trying to understand how auxin is involved, and all of these different aspects of plant growth and plant development.

Alex Hong  03:29

So for your work with the auxins, have you seen any applications in real life such as I know, you mentioned agronomy, but in other fields?

Dr. Lucia Strader  03:40

Yes, absolutely. So my laboratory has most of its funding from the National Institutes of Health. So the NIH is really interested in understanding basic mechanisms, and my lab studies the basic mechanisms underlying auxin signal transduction, right so the things that we're learning about how the system works, our general knowledge that are applicable to many other systems. In addition, some members of the community have built tools using components of the auxin signal transduction pathway that have allowed them to do some experiments on other systems. So auxin has become somewhat famous and like the Drosophila field or the worm field or and human cell line researchers, laboratories, because it can be used, the components of that system can be used for rapid protein depletion.

Alex Hong  04:30

For your studies, how do you usually study the plants? Do you actually go out into the field? Or is most of the work confined to a like molecular biology lab? at Duke? 

Dr. Lucia Strader  04:41

Yeah, so most of the actual experiments we do are in the laboratory, and we're very lucky, we mostly use this small plant called Arabidopsis thaliana. So Arabidopsis is great because it's pretty resilient. So you don't have to have a green thumb to be able to grow it effectively. Which is helpful because you do, because, you know, we have undergrads in the lab that might not have much experience growing plants and they can grow this just fine. They're quite small when they're young and that allows us to do some microscopy techniques on them, and each individual plant, so one Arabidopsis plant will produce 10,000 seeds. So whenever you're doing a muting screen, or whenever you want to study the progeny of a particular genotype, you have plenty of material to work with, after you get the seed from the plant.

Alex Hong  05:28

So Arabidopsis, it's a pretty good model organism for plants, right?

Dr. Lucia Strader  05:33

Arabidopsis has many key features that make it a good model for plant biology. It's small, it's easy to grow. It has a small genome. So it's 115 mega base pairs, which is around the same size to Drosophila or C. elegans, which are also great animal models.

Alex Hong  05:51

Do you also study the genetics and like the chromosomes of all these plants, as well?

Dr. Lucia Strader  05:56

So my lab uses a variety of techniques to try to understand how auxin works. We use mutant screens or genetic screens, we also do a lot of biochemistry and we do a lot of cell biology. So I, we have a pretty nice imaging set up in the lab, so that we can look at plants at different scales.

Alex Hong  06:15

A final wrap up question, what's one thing that you love doing outside of work?

Dr. Lucia Strader  06:19

Well, I like to spend time with my family and go hiking around there. So that's one of the things that we really appreciate about living in Durham is there's so many great trails where you can really get out in the woods and be in nature.

Alex Hong  06:33

Well, that's it for this one. BioGist is supported by the Duke University biology department. Music is from Poddington Bear. Thanks so much for listening and hope to see you next time.