students biology research

Top row, l-r: Brian Jenkins ’22, Devon Lindstrom ’19 and Alyka Zahnd, senior; bottom row (l-r) Dr. Csengela Barta and Dr. Gyongyi Szekely

March 6, 2023–A Missouri Western State University biology professor and three of her students have published a research paper that may help lead to new ways of controlling invasive plant species.

According to Dr. Csengele Barta, associate professor of biology, the paper is the first study in the field to examine how the metabolism of a native plant species affects their sensitivity to inhibiting chemicals released by competing invasive species.

“Our work is the first to demonstrate that a specific plant hormone in a native species plays a fundamental role in determining responses to inhibitors synthesized and released from competing invasive species,” Dr. Barta said. “The research has broader impacts, with implications in supporting the development of novel biodiversity conservation protocols and may contribute to applications in agriculture.”

Dr. Barta wrote the paper with a colleague, Dr. Gyongyi Szekely of Babeș-Bolyai University in Romania, along with three undergraduate students in Dr. Barta’s laboratory: Brian Jenkins ‘22,  Devon Lindstrom ‘19 and Alyka Zahnd, senior wildlife and conservation management major from Savannah, Missouri. 

Students were involved in conceptualizing and conducting some of the experiments, curating the data and reviewing the final article.

“Conducting research on this project with Dr. Barta has been an invaluable applied learning experience,” Zahnd said. “Few undergraduates across the country get the opportunities I have received in the Biology Department. That will set me apart when I apply for acceptance into graduate programs and later, professional positions.”  

“The opportunities provided by Missouri Western State University and the Summer and Gold Fridays Biology PORTAL (Program of Research, Teaching, and Applied Learning) have been fundamental to supporting this research, and we are very grateful to MWSU and its Administration,” Dr. Barta said.

plants journal logo

In addition, Zahnd’s work on the project was funded by the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) through a winning Summer Undergraduate Research Program proposal in 2021.

The researchers looked at the interactions between Amur honeysuckle, an invasive species in U.S. woodlands, and seeds of the field mustard plant. The honeysuckle succeeds as an invasive species in part because it makes and releases chemicals that inhibit the germination of other seeds. Researchers found that higher concentrations of a plant hormone called gibberellic acid in the mustard seeds may help reduce the inhibiting effects of those chemicals.

The paper titled “The First Evidence of Gibberellic Acid’s Ability to Modulate Target Species’ Sensitivity to Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) Allelochemicals” was published in Plants, an international journal published by the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute. 

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