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Graduate Research: Randy Lacey

Randy Lacey

Having a Gas with Ethylene Signaling

Randy Lacey is proud to claim his birthplace of McKenzie, Tennessee. The son of a father who is a retired physical therapist and a mother who teaches special education, Randy spent his early life in west Tennessee before heading east to pursue postsecondary education.

His first stop on his eastern trek was Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tennessee where he majored in biology. It was here, while taking cell biology courses, that Randy developed an interest in biology and research.

Following graduation from Austin Peay with a bachelor’s degree, Randy continued eastward to UT in 2009 to start work on a doctorate. He subsequently joined the lab of Brad Binder in 2010 where he is studying how the simple gas, ethylene, is used by cyanobacteria (aka blue-green algae) as an environmental signal.

In plants, ethylene is a hormone that regulates many key processes such as fruit ripening and stress responses. The production of ethylene by ripe apples stimulates ripening of other apples and as a result “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch.”

The receptors for ethylene are believed to have been obtained by plants during evolution when chloroplasts were acquired from a cyanobacteria in a process called endosymbiosis. However, no one has examined the role of ethylene and the receptors in cyanobacteria. Do they do anything useful?

Randy’s research shows that there is an ethylene receptor in the cyanobacterium, Synechocystis, and that ethylene enhances movement towards light (phototaxis). His research indicates that ethylene is an environmental cue that modulates cyanobacteria movement. Ethylene is released from organic matter dissolved in seawater by light and thus points movement of cyanobacteria to environmental conditions optimal to the growth and survival of bacteria.

Randy has presented his work at several regional and international meetings and is currently drafting his results for publication. In 2012 Randy received the James and Dora Wright Fellowship that recognizes a graduate student in the BCMB program who demonstrates leadership and excellence in scholarship and research.

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