Anna Dobritsa

Associate Professor

Cells rely on a regulated production of extracellular materials to control their shapes, growth, and motility, to promote tissue formation, and to protect themselves. Despite the importance of extracellular structures in development and disease, the question of how cells decide when, where, and in which manner these materials should be produced and deposited is far from being understood in any system. My laboratory studies formation of complex extracellular structures using development of exine, the outer cell wall of plant pollen grains, as a model.

Exine, the amazing cell wall of pollen grains:Fig. 1 Pollen exine assembles into elaborate species-specific patterns. Pollen grains of six plant species are shown.

Fig. 1 Pollen exine assembles into elaborate species-specific patterns.
Pollen grains of six plant species are shown.

Having evolved as a protector of male reproductive units, a pollinator-interacting entity, and a site of pollen-pistil recognition, exine is important for plant reproduction and speciation. Understanding the mechanism of its development could enable improved manipulations of plant reproduction by controlling pollination. In addition to this, exine formation is a fascinating system that lies at the intersection of many disciplines, ranging from cell and developmental biology to biochemistry, evolutionary biology, materials science, and molecular engineering. The following features make exine an exciting system to study:

  1. Exine has a very unique composition, different from other plant cell walls. It is made of sporopollenin, a biopolymer unparalleled for its strength, elasticity, and chemical durability. Sporopollenin’s chemical structure and the genetic and biochemical networks that control its production are poorly understood. Because of this biopolymer’s remarkable material properties, understanding the processes responsible for sporopollenin synthesis is of interest not only to plant biologists, but also to materials scientists.

  2. Exine contains species-specific adhesives that participate in strong and selective binding between male pollen and receptive female stigma cells and are possibly involved in speciation. The identity of adhesives is unknown, but their chemical and physical properties suggest that they are unlikely to be proteins, implying that exine mediates a very unusual type of cell-cell recognition.Understanding the nature of these adhesives may result in the creation of strong and specific glues.

  3. Exine has an enormous morphological diversity across taxa and assembles into thousands of intricate species-specific 3D patterns (Fig. 1). How exine materials are assembled on pollen surfaces with such a precision into dramatically diverse patterns are the intriguing evo-devo and cell-biological questions.

Pollen apertures, a model for formation of distinct cellular domains
Exine is typically deposited on the pollen surface non-uniformly, with the outcome that certain regions of the surface develop almost no exine. These areas (visible as darker regions in Fig.1) are known as pollen apertures – in many species, they are used as sites for pollen tube exit during germination. Similar to exine patterns, aperture patterns are generally conserved within a species but can vary considerably between the species, with apertures displaying different number, positions or morphology. Existence of apertures indicates that the pollen surface is not uniform and capable of creating distinct aperture domains that have a different molecular composition from the surrounding areas. We are very much interested in molecular mechanisms involved in formation of aperture domains and establishment of aperture patterns.


Research goals and approaches

We are trying to learn how sporopollenin is synthesized, exine is developed, exine and aperture patterns are laid out, and eventually would like to understand how the forms of these complex structures determine their functions. To answer these questions, we utilize genetics, molecular biology, confocal and electron microscopy, and biochemistry. We have a large collection of Arabidopsis exine and aperture mutants (some shown in Fig. 2) that help us to identify and study molecular players and events involved in sporopollenin biosynthesis and formation of patterns on the pollen surface. In the future, these data from a model plant will be used as a foundation for evo-devo studies regarding the generation of the enormous variety of exine patterns observed in nature.

Fig. 2 Examples of phenotypes of our exine mutants. Wild-type pollen grains are in the top left panel.

Fig. 2 Examples of phenotypes of our exine mutants.
Wild-type pollen grains are in the top left panel.
The mutant completely lacking apertures is the second in the top row.



Dobritsa Lab Members 2018

Dobritsa lab (May 2018):
Yunxia Chen, Adam Helton, Ayla Edwards, Sarah Reeder,
Zach Weber, Anna Dobritsa, Prativa Amom, Galen Rask,
Byungha Lee,and Rui Wang.


Postdoctoral Scholars:

  • Dr. Byungha Lee (2014 -)
  • Dr. Rui Wang (2016 -)

Visiting Scholars: 

  • Dr. Yunxia Chen, Forensic Center of Wildlife, Nanjing, China, (2017-)
  • Sarah Reeder, Research Associate (Sept. 2013 - )

Undergraduate Assistants

  • Adam Helton, OSU Molecular Genetics (2018-)
  • Thelma Amoah, OSU Biology (2018-)
  • Jad Hussein, OSU Biomedical Engineering (2017-)


Graduate students

  • Galen Rask (2015-2018)
  • Shayne Plourde (MS in Mathematical Biosciences), co-supervised with Adriana Dawes (2016-2017)

Visiting scholars

  • Dr. Peng Li, Tsinghua University, China (2015-2016)
  • Samira Ben-Menni Schuler, University of Granada, Spain (2015)

Undergraduate Assistants

  • Ayla Edwards, OSU Molecular Genetics (2017-2018)
  • Claire Merriman, OSU Biology (2016-2018)
  • Prativa Amom, OSU Molecular Genetics (2015-2018)
  • Zachary Weber, OSU Molecular Genetics (2014-2018)
  • Noah Weyrick, NSF/CAPS-REU student (summer 2018)
  • Michelle Tan, OSU Molecular Genetics (2015-2017)
  • Holly Welfley, OSU Molecular Genetics (2014-2016)
  • Ronnie Fox, OSU Molecular Genetics (2014-2016)
  • Ruyuan Liu, OSU Biology (2014-2015)
  • Matthew Postolowski, OSU Biology (2014-2015)
  • Nahomie Chantal Rodriguez Sastre, NSF-REU student (summer 2014)

High-school students

  • Sydney Bernthold – K12, Metro School Internship, Metro High School (March-May 2016)
  • Kevin Freeman – K12, Metro Capstone Program, Metro High School (February – May 2014)



                       Annals of Botany Cover    Journal of Experimental Botany cover      

                      Plant Physiology Cover     The Plant Cell Cover                             


  1. Lee, B. H., Weber, Z. T., Zourelidou, M., Hofmeister, B. T., Schmitz, R. J., Schwechheimer, C., and A. A. Dobritsa (2018) Arabidopsis protein kinase D6PKL3 is involved in the formation of distinct plasma-membrane aperture domains on the pollen surface. Plant Cell 30:2038-2056.

  2. Wang, R. and A. A. Dobritsa (2018) PDF icon Exine and aperture patterns on the pollen surface: Their formation and roles in plant reproduction. Annual Plant Reviews 1: 1-40

  3. Dobritsa, A. A., Kirkpatrick, A., Reeder, S. H., Li, P. and H. A. Owen (2018) Pollen aperture factor INP1 acts late in aperture formation by excluding specific membrane domains from exine deposition. Plant Physiology. Focus Issue on Plant Cell Dynamics. 176: 326-339,

  4. Li, P., Ben-Menni Schuler, S., Reeder, S. H., Wang, R., Suarez Santiago, V., and A. A. Dobritsa (2018) INP1 involvement in pollen aperture formation is evolutionarily conserved and may require species-specific partners. J. Exp. Bot. 69: 983-996,

  5. Albert, B., Ressayre, A., Dillmann, C., Carlson, A., Swanson, R. J., Gouyon, P.-H., and A. A. Dobritsa (2018) Effect of aperture number on pollen germination, survival, and reproductive success in Arabidopsis thaliana. Ann. Bot. 121:733-740,

  6. Dobritsa, A. A.  and S. H. Reeder (2017) Formation of pollen apertures in Arabidopsis requires an interplay between male meiosis, development of INP1-decorated plasma membrane domains, and the callose wall. Plant Signaling & Behavior. e1393136. DOI:

  7. Reeder, S. H., Lee, B. H., Fox, R., and A. A. Dobritsa (2016) A ploidy-sensitive mechanism regulates formation of apertures on the Arabidopsis pollen surface and guides localization of the aperture factor INP1. PLOS Genetics 12: e1006060 DOI:10.1371/journal.pgen.1006060

  8. Prieu, C., Matamoro-Vidal, A., Raquin, C., Dobritsa, A., Mercier, R., Gouyon, P.-H., and B. Albert (2016) Aperture number influences pollen survival in Arabidopsis mutants. Am. J. Bot. (Special Issue on the Ecology and Evolution of Pollen Performance) 103:432-439, 10.3732/ajb.1500301.

  9. Dobritsa, A. A. and D. Coerper (2012) The novel plant protein INAPERTURATE POLLEN1 marks distinct cellular domains and controls formation of apertures in the Arabidopsis pollen exine. Plant Cell 24: 4452-4464

  10. Dobritsa, A. A., Geanconteri, A., Shrestha, J., Carlson, A., Kooyers, N., Coerper, D., Urbanczyk-Wochniak, E., Bench, B. J., Sumner, L. W., Swanson, R., and D. Preuss (2011) A large-scale genetic screen in Arabidopsis to identify genes involved in pollen exine production. Plant Physiology 157: 947-970

  11. Dobritsa, A. A., Lei, Z., Nishikawa, S., Urbanczyk-Wochniak, E., Huhman, D. V., Preuss, D., and Sumner, L.W. (2010) LAP5 and LAP6 encode anther-specific proteins with similarity to chalcone synthase essential for pollen development in Arabidopsis thaliana. Plant Physiology 153: 937-955

  12. Dobritsa, A. A., Nishikawa, S., Preuss, D., Urbanczyk-Wochniak, E., Sumner, L. W., Hammond, A., Carlson, A.L., and Swanson, R. J. (2009) LAP3, a novel plant protein required for pollen development, is essential for pollen exine formation. Sex. Plant Reprod. 22: 167-177

  13. Dobritsa, A. A., Shrestha, J., Morant, M., Pinot, F., Matsuno, M., Swanson, R., Møller, B. L., and D. Preuss (2009) CYP704B1 is a long-chain fatty acid w-hydroxylase essential for sporopollenin synthesis in pollen of Arabidopsis thaliana. Plant Physiology 151: 574-589


Areas of Expertise
  • Pollen Development
  • Cell Biology
  • Plant Molecular Genetics

Picture for dobritsa.1

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