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Dr. Anna Locke

Soybean & Nitrogen Fixation Research Unit

Agricultural Research Service

US Department of Agriculture

Raleigh, NC

Anna Locke is a Research Plant Physiologist with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and USDA Assistant Professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences and Plant Sciences Initiative at North Carolina State University. Dr. Locke’s graduate work at the University of Illinois probed leaf hydraulic responses to climate change, and her postdoctoral research at the University of California, Riverside illuminated post-submergence recovery strategies in rice. Currently, her USDA research group focuses on genotype-environment interactions among soybean varieties, with particular emphasis on drought and heat stress.

Field- and AI-based approaches to improve soybean temperature stress tolerance

High temperatures can reduce soybean productivity and seed quality. Because infrastructure requirements prohibit the direct application of a temperature treatments to a large field area, a conventional strategy such as GWAS or QTL mapping is not practical for identifying the molecular regulators of temperature stress responses. A mechanistic approach coupled with a powerful, AI-enabled analysis strategy is needed to understand and improve extreme temperature tolerance in crops. We investigated phenotypic variation in heat stress responses in an open-air field experiment, comparing the physiological and agronomic responses of several soybean genotypes to a 4 °C above ambient air temperature increase during the seed fill period. Plants grew in the ground and in open air conditions, to realistically mimic an agronomic setting. We found that physiological and seed composition responses to elevated temperature varied among genotypes and among the three years of the field study. Concurrently, we collaborated with computational experts to develop a neural network-based analysis pipeline with the power to identify molecular regulators in a dataset using only a few genotypes, and we have successfully identified a novel regulator of cold tolerance in soybean. Our work has demonstrated that field experimentation coupled with novel analytic strategies may aid crop improvement through breeding or biotechnology.


Selected Publication

  • Van den Broeck L, Bhosale DK, Song K, de Lima CFF, Ashley M, Zhu T, Zhu S, Van De Cotte B, Neyt P, Ortiz AC, Sikes TR, Aper J, Lootens P, Locke AM, De Smet I, and Sozzani R. Functional annotation of proteins for signaling network inference in non-model species. Nature Communications 14: 4654. [Link]

  • Ortiz AC, De Smet I, Sozzani R, Locke AM (2022) Field-grown soybean shows genotypic variation in physiological and seed composition responses to heat stress during seed development. Environmental and Experimental Botany 195:104765.

  • Siebers MH, Yendrek CR, Drag D, Locke AM, Rios Acosta L, Leakey ADB, Ainsworth EA, Bernacchi CJ, Ort DR (2015) Heat waves imposed during early pod development in soybean (Glycine max) cause significant yield loss despite a rapid recovery from oxidative stress.  Global Change Biology 21:3114-3125.

Full list of Publication

- Google Scholar

- Official Website

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