Beth Thompson

Beth Thompson

Phone: 252-737-2972
Office: N413 Howell Science Complex
Lab: N414 Howell Science Complex
Address: Department of Biology
East Carolina University
Greenville, NC 27858

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Research Program

The Thompson lab is interested in understanding the genetic mechanisms that control inflorescence (tassel and ear) architecture and floral development in the key crop plant, maize (corn).  The inflorescences are essential for reproduction and inflorescence architecture in the ear determines the number and position of seeds that will form. We study mutants to identify genes required for these processes and then use a variety of approaches to understand how these genes function during normal development.  We currently have two major research projects in the lab to 1) analyze the role of microRNAs in inflorescence development and 2) investigate how MADS-box transcription factors and other genes regulate floral development.

1) microRNA control of maize inflorescence development

microRNAs (miRNAs) are small, non-coding RNAs that post-transcriptionally regulate gene expression in both plants and animals.  We have identified a maize mutant, fuzzy tassel (fzt), that contains a mutation in dicer-like1 (dcl1).  DCL1 is an enzyme required to make most miRNAs, and fzt mutant phenotypes are likely due reduced miRNA levels.  fzt has both striking inflorescence and vegetative phenotypes, implicating miRNAs in a wide variety of developmental processes.  We are using a combination of genomic, molecular and genetic approaches to identify specific miRNAs and miRNA target pairs that are misregulated in fzt and control specific stages of inflorescence development. 

This project is funded by an NSF CAREER grant; click here for the project link on the NSF website:

I am recruiting Ph.D. students to work on this project.  Please contact me directly if you are interested!

2) Genetic control of maize floral development

Floral development has been extensively studied in Arabidopsis, however much less is known about floral development in maize and the grasses.  We study known mutants and floral regulators to understand how floral development is regulated in maize.  We are particularly interested in how BEARDED-EAR and other MADS-box transcription factors control maize  floral development.  To identify new genes that function in maize floral development, we are screening for new floral mutants and then mapping these mutants in the lab. 

I am always looking for motivated Ph.D., masters, and undergraduate students to join the lab and contribute to these projects.  Please contact me if you are interested in joining us!



Beth E. Thompson, Christine Basham, Reza Hammond, Queying Ding, Atul Kakrana, Tzuu-Fen Lee, Stacey A. Simon, Robert Meeley, Blake C. Meyers, and Sarah Hake (2014). The dicer-like1 Homolog fuzzy tassel Is Required for the Regulation of Meristem Determinacy in the Inflorescence and Vegetative Growth in Maize.  The Plant Cell 26, 4702-2717.

Madelaine E. Bartlett and Beth Thompson (2014). Meristem identity and phyllotaxis in inflorescence development. Frontiers in Plant Science 5, 508.

 Beth Thompson (2014). Genetic and Hormonal Regulation of Maize Inflorescence Development. In J-P. Jacquot, & P. Gadal (Serial Eds.) & F. Fornara (Serial Vol. Ed.), Advances in Botanical Research, 72, 263-296.

Beth E. Thompson, Linnea Bartling, Clint Whipple, Darren H. Hall, Hajime Sakai, Robert Schmidt, and Sarah Hake (2009). bearded-ear Encodes a MAD Box Transcription Factor Critical for Maize Floral Development. Plant Cell 21, 2578-2590.

Nayoung Suh, Sarah L. Crittenden, Aaron Goldstrohm, Brad Hook, Beth Thompson, Marvin Wickens and Judith Kimble (2009). FBF and Its Dual Control of gld-1 Expression in the Caenorhabditis elegans Germline. Genetics 181, 1249-1260.

Beth E. Thompson and Sarah Hake (2009). Translational Biology: from Arabidopsis flowers to grass inflorescence architecture. Plant Physiology 149, 28-45.

Beth Thompson, Marvin Wickens, and Judith Kimble (2007). Translational control in development. In Translational Control in Biology and Medicine, (ed. M. B. Mathews N. Sonenberg and J. W. B. Hershey), pp. 507-544. Woodbury, NY: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

Beth E. Thompson, Liana B. Lamont, and Judith Kimble (2006). Germ-line induction of the Caenorhabditis elegans vulva. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103, 620-625.

Beth E. Thompson, David S. Bernstein, Jennifer L. Bachorik, Andrei G. Petcherski, Marvin Wickens, and Judith Kimble (2005). Dose-dependent control of proliferation and sperm specification by FOG-1/CPEB. Development 132, 3471-3481.

Sarah L. Crittenden, Davis S. Bernstein, Jennifer L. Bachorik. Beth E. Thompson, Maria Gallegos, Andrei G. Petcherski, Gary Moulder, Robert Barstead, Marvin Wickens and Judith Kimble (2002). A conserved RNA-binding protein controls germline stem cells in Caenorhabditis elegans. Nature 417, 630-633.

Bethany K. Zolman, Melanie Monroe-Augustus, Beth Thompson, John W. Hawes, Kristin A. Krukenberg, Seiichi P. T. Matsuda, and Bonnie Bartel (2001). chy1, an Arabidopsis Mutant with Impaired b-Oxidation, Is Defective in a Peroxisomal Hydroxyisobutyryl-CoA Hydrolase. Journal of Biological Chemistry 276, 31037-31046.

Courses Taught

BIOL 2300: Principles of Genetics

BIOL 3260: Cell & Developmental Biology (w/ Dr. Dave Rudel)

BIOL 4230: Concepts in Cell Biology

BIOL 6130: Advances in Developmental Biology

Laboratory Personnel

Sterling Field


Sterling Field
MS Student

Caitlyn Johnson


Caitlyn Johnson
MS Student

Katherine Novitsky


Katherine Novitsky
MS Student

Kate Nukunya


Kate Nukunya
MS Student