Bio

Professional Education


  • Bachelor of Science, University of California Davis (2003)
  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of California Riverside (2012)

Stanford Advisors


Publications

Journal Articles


  • Generation of a luciferase-based reporter for CHH and CG DNA methylation in Arabidopsis thaliana. Silence Dinh, T. T., O'Leary, M., Won, S. Y., Li, S., Arroyo, L., Liu, X., Defries, A., Zheng, B., Cutler, S. R., Chen, X. 2013; 4 (1): 1-?

    Abstract

    DNA methylation ensures genome integrity and regulates gene expression in diverse eukaryotes. In Arabidopsis, methylation occurs in three sequence contexts: CG, CHG and CHH. The initial establishment of DNA methylation at all three sequence contexts occurs through a process known as RNA-directed DNA methylation (RdDM), in which small RNAs bound by Argonaute4 (AGO4) guide DNA methylation at homologous loci through the de novo methyltransferase DRM2. Once established, DNA methylation at each of the three sequence contexts is maintained through different mechanisms. Although some players involved in RdDM and maintenance methylation have been identified, the underlying molecular mechanisms are not fully understood. To aid the comprehensive identification of players in DNA methylation, we generated a transgenic reporter system that permits genetic and chemical genetic screens in Arabidopsis.A dual 35S promoter (d35S) driven luciferase (LUC) reporter was introduced into Arabidopsis and LUCL, a line with a low basal level of luciferase activity, was obtained. LUCL was found to be a multi-copy, single-insertion transgene that contains methylated cytosines in CG, CHG and CHH contexts, with the highest methylation in the CG context. Methylation was present throughout the promoter and LUC coding region. Treatment with an inhibitor of cytosine methylation de-repressed luciferase activity. A mutation in MET1, which encodes the CG maintenance methyltransferase, drastically reduced CG methylation and de-repressed LUC expression. Mutations in AGO4 and DRM2 also de-repressed LUC expression, albeit to a smaller extent than loss of MET1. Using LUCL as a reporter line, we performed a chemical screen for compounds that de-repress LUC expression, and identified a chemical, methotrexate, known to be involved in biogenesis of the methyl donor.We developed a luciferase-based reporter system, LUCL, which reports both RdDM and CG maintenance methylation in Arabidopsis. The low basal level of LUCL expression provides an easy readout in genetic and chemical genetic screens that will dissect the mechanisms of RdDM and methylation maintenance.

    View details for DOI 10.1186/1758-907X-4-1

    View details for PubMedID 23561294

  • The floral homeotic protein APETALA2 recognizes and acts through an AT-rich sequence element DEVELOPMENT Dinh, T. T., Girke, T., Liu, X., Yant, L., Schmid, M., Chen, X. 2012; 139 (11): 1978-1986

    Abstract

    Cell fate specification in development requires transcription factors for proper regulation of gene expression. In Arabidopsis, transcription factors encoded by four classes of homeotic genes, A, B, C and E, act in a combinatorial manner to control proper floral organ identity. The A-class gene APETALA2 (AP2) promotes sepal and petal identities in whorls 1 and 2 and restricts the expression of the C-class gene AGAMOUS (AG) from whorls 1 and 2. However, it is unknown how AP2 performs these functions. Unlike the other highly characterized floral homeotic proteins containing MADS domains, AP2 has two DNA-binding domains referred to as the AP2 domains and its DNA recognition sequence is still unknown. Here, we show that the second AP2 domain in AP2 binds a non-canonical AT-rich target sequence, and, using a GUS reporter system, we demonstrate that the presence of this sequence in the AG second intron is important for the restriction of AG expression in vivo. Furthermore, we show that AP2 binds the AG second intron and directly regulates AG expression through this sequence element. Computational analysis reveals that the binding site is highly conserved in the second intron of AG orthologs throughout Brassicaceae. By uncovering a biologically relevant AT-rich target sequence, this work shows that AP2 domains have wide-ranging target specificities and provides a missing link in the mechanisms that underlie flower development. It also sets the foundation for understanding the basis of the broad biological functions of AP2 in Arabidopsis, as well as the divergent biological functions of AP2 orthologs in dicotyledonous plants.

    View details for DOI 10.1242/dev.077073

    View details for Web of Science ID 000303914300014

    View details for PubMedID 22513376

  • The Arabidopsis Nucleotidyl Transferase HESO1 Uridylates Unmethylated Small RNAs to Trigger Their Degradation CURRENT BIOLOGY Zhao, Y., Yu, Y., Zhai, J., Ramachandran, V., Thanh Theresa Dinh, T. T., Meyers, B. C., Mo, B., Chen, X. 2012; 22 (8): 689-694

    Abstract

    MicroRNAs (miRNAs), small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), and piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) impact numerous biological processes in eukaryotes. In addition to biogenesis, turnover contributes to the steady-state levels of small RNAs. One major factor that stabilizes miRNAs and siRNAs in plants as well as siRNAs and piRNAs in animals is 2'-O-methylation on the 3' terminal ribose by the methyltransferase HUA ENHANCER1 (HEN1) [1-6]. Genetic studies with Arabidopsis, Drosophila, and zebrafish hen1 mutants show that 2'-O-methylation protects small RNAs from 3'-to-5' truncation and 3' uridylation, the addition of nontemplated nucleotides, predominantly uridine [2, 7, 8]. Uridylation is a widespread phenomenon that is not restricted to small RNAs in hen1 mutants and is often associated with their reduced accumulation ([7, 9, 10]; reviewed in [11]). The enzymes responsible for 3' uridylation of small RNAs when they lack methylation in plants or animals have remained elusive. Here, we identify the Arabidopsis HEN1 SUPPRESSOR1 (HESO1) gene as responsible for small RNA uridylation in hen1 mutants. HESO1 exhibits terminal nucleotidyl transferase activity, prefers uridine as the substrate nucleotide, and is completely inhibited by 2'-O-methylation. We show that uridylation leads to miRNA degradation, and the degradation is most likely through an enzyme that is distinct from that causing the 3' truncation in hen1 mutants.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2012.02.051

    View details for Web of Science ID 000303288300021

    View details for PubMedID 22464194

  • Development of a luciferase-based reporter of transcriptional gene silencing that enables bidirectional mutant screening in Arabidopsis thaliana. Silence Won, S. Y., Li, S., Zheng, B., Zhao, Y., Li, D., Zhao, X., Yi, H., Gao, L., Dinh, T. T., Chen, X. 2012; 3 (1): 6-?

    Abstract

    Cytosine methylation is an important chromatin modification that maintains genome integrity and regulates gene expression through transcriptional gene silencing. Major players in de novo methylation guided by siRNAs (known as RNA-directed DNA methylation, or RdDM), maintenance methylation, and active demethylation have been identified in Arabidopsis. However, active demethylation only occurs at a subset of RdDM loci, raising the question of how the homeostasis of DNA methylation is achieved at most RdDM loci. To identify factors that regulate the levels of cytosine methylation, we aimed to establish a transgenic reporter system that allows for forward genetic screens in Arabidopsis.We introduced a dual 35 S promoter (d35S) driven luciferase reporter, LUCH, into Arabidopsis and isolated a line with a moderate level of luciferase activity. LUCH produced transgene-specific 24 nucleotide siRNAs and its d35S contained methylated cytosine in CG, CHG and CHH contexts. Treatment of the transgenic line with an inhibitor of cytosine methylation de-repressed luciferase activity. Mutations in several components of the RdDM pathway but not the maintenance methylation genes resulted in reduced d35S methylation, especially CHH methylation, and de-repression of luciferase activity. A mutation in MOM1, which is known to cooperate with RdDM to silence transposons, reduced d35S DNA methylation and de-repressed LUCH expression. A mutation in ROS1, a cytosine demethylation enzyme, increased d35S methylation and reduced LUCH expression.We developed a luciferase-based reporter, LUCH, which reports both DNA methylation directed by small RNAs and active demethylation by ROS1 in Arabidopsis. The moderate basal level of LUCH expression allows for bi-directional genetic screens that dissect the mechanisms of DNA methylation as well as demethylation.

    View details for DOI 10.1186/1758-907X-3-6

    View details for PubMedID 22676624

  • ARGONAUTE10 and ARGONAUTE1 Regulate the Termination of Floral Stem Cells through Two MicroRNAs in Arabidopsis PLOS GENETICS Ji, L., Liu, X., Yan, J., Wang, W., Yumul, R. E., Kim, Y. J., Thanh Theresa Dinh, T. T., Liu, J., Cui, X., Zheng, B., Agarwal, M., Liu, C., Cao, X., Tang, G., Chen, X. 2011; 7 (3)

    Abstract

    Stem cells are crucial in morphogenesis in plants and animals. Much is known about the mechanisms that maintain stem cell fates or trigger their terminal differentiation. However, little is known about how developmental time impacts stem cell fates. Using Arabidopsis floral stem cells as a model, we show that stem cells can undergo precise temporal regulation governed by mechanisms that are distinct from, but integrated with, those that specify cell fates. We show that two microRNAs, miR172 and miR165/166, through targeting APETALA2 and type III homeodomain-leucine zipper (HD-Zip) genes, respectively, regulate the temporal program of floral stem cells. In particular, we reveal a role of the type III HD-Zip genes, previously known to specify lateral organ polarity, in stem cell termination. Both reduction in HD-Zip expression by over-expression of miR165/166 and mis-expression of HD-Zip genes by rendering them resistant to miR165/166 lead to prolonged floral stem cell activity, indicating that the expression of HD-Zip genes needs to be precisely controlled to achieve floral stem cell termination. We also show that both the ubiquitously expressed ARGONAUTE1 (AGO1) gene and its homolog AGO10, which exhibits highly restricted spatial expression patterns, are required to maintain the correct temporal program of floral stem cells. We provide evidence that AGO10, like AGO1, associates with miR172 and miR165/166 in vivo and exhibits "slicer" activity in vitro. Despite the common biological functions and similar biochemical activities, AGO1 and AGO10 exert different effects on miR165/166 in vivo. This work establishes a network of microRNAs and transcription factors governing the temporal program of floral stem cells and sheds light on the relationships among different AGO genes, which tend to exist in gene families in multicellular organisms.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pgen.1001358

    View details for Web of Science ID 000288996600039

    View details for PubMedID 21483759

  • Orchestration of the Floral Transition and Floral Development in Arabidopsis by the Bifunctional Transcription Factor APETALA2 PLANT CELL Yant, L., Mathieu, J., Dinh, T. T., Ott, F., Lanz, C., Wollmann, H., Chen, X., Schmid, M. 2010; 22 (7): 2156-2170

    Abstract

    The Arabidopsis thaliana transcription factor APETALA2 (AP2) has numerous functions, including roles in seed development, stem cell maintenance, and specification of floral organ identity. To understand the relationship between these different roles, we mapped direct targets of AP2 on a genome-wide scale in two tissue types. We find that AP2 binds to thousands of loci in the developing flower, many of which exhibit AP2-dependent transcription. Opposing, logical effects are evident in AP2 binding to two microRNA genes that influence AP2 expression, with AP2 positively regulating miR156 and negatively regulating miR172, forming a complex direct feedback loop, which also included all but one of the AP2-like miR172 target clade members. We compare the genome-wide direct target repertoire of AP2 with that of SCHLAFMUTZE, a closely related transcription factor that also represses the transition to flowering. We detect clear similarities and important differences in the direct target repertoires that are also tissue specific. Finally, using an inducible expression system, we demonstrate that AP2 has dual molecular roles. It functions as both a transcriptional activator and repressor, directly inducing the expression of the floral repressor AGAMOUS-LIKE15 and directly repressing the transcription of floral activators like SUPPRESSOR OF OVEREXPRESSION OF CONSTANS1.

    View details for DOI 10.1105/tpc.110.075606

    View details for Web of Science ID 000282432700007

    View details for PubMedID 20675573

  • miR172 regulates stem cell fate and defines the inner boundary of APETALA3 and PISTILLATA expression domain in Arabidopsis floral meristems PLANT JOURNAL Zhao, L., Kim, Y., Dinh, T. T., Chen, X. 2007; 51 (5): 840-849

    Abstract

    In Arabidopsis, two floral homeotic genes APETALA2 (AP2) and AGAMOUS (AG) specify the identities of perianth and reproductive organs, respectively, in flower development. The two genes act antagonistically to restrict each other to their proper domains of action within the floral meristem. In addition to AG, which antagonizes AP2, miR172, a microRNA, serves as a negative regulator of AP2. In this study, we showed that AG and miR172 have distinct functions in flower development and that they largely act independently in the negative regulation of AP2. We uncovered functions of miR172-mediated repression of AP2 in the regulation of floral stem cells and in the delineation of the expression domain of another class of floral homeotic genes. Given the antiquity of miR172 in land plants, our findings have implications for the recruitment of a microRNA in the building of a flower in evolution.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/j.1365-313X.2007.03181.x

    View details for Web of Science ID 000249424100008

    View details for PubMedID 17573799

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