Current projects

Plant Energy Biology

We work on two aspects of plant energy biology: On mitochondria, the powerhouse of cells, and on phosphate - its energy currency.

Research project 1

Dr Yan Wang, Dr Oliver Berkowitz

Understanding mitochondrial biogenesis and function and their key signalling pathways over the plants' life cycle

Mitochondria provide the energy and building blocks for plant growth from the earliest stages of development through to senescence and cell death. Mitochondria also help plants to cope with adverse growth conditions and stresses which lead to large scale yield losses in agricultural production.

Our laboratory strives to better understand mitochondrial biogenesis and function as well as their complex underlying signalling pathways. This forms the basis to increase energy efficiency and stress resistance resulting in ‘smarter’ plants.

Research projects in our team aim at:

  1. Identifying the key regulators and signalling pathways involved in the communication of mitochondria with other organelles within the plant cell such as the nucleus and chloroplasts throughout the life cycle. This approach involves the identification and characterisation of mutant and transgenic plants on the phenotypic and molecular level.
  2. Profiling the stress responses of wild type and transgenic lines to identify mitochondrial components involved in making plants more tolerant to for example drought or submergence. This work includes mutant screening, genome-wide transcriptomics using RNA-seq and biochemical methods.

The integration of results from these approaches will help us to understand the molecular mechanisms involved and identify targets for the development of improved plants with increased resilience to adverse and changing environmental conditions.

Research project 2

Dr Ricarda Jost

Identifying and characterizing pathways to improve phosphate acquisition and use in plants

Various aspects of phosphate metabolism that are being studied in our laboratory in order to produce ‘smarter’ plants that can take up more phosphate and use it more wisely.

We study the biochemistry and molecular physiology of phosphate uptake and  use within the plant to identify steps that can be targeted to optimise plant growth and productivity.

Examples of research projects available in this area include:

  1. Identifying gatekeeper cells that direct phosphate to growing organs to improve whole plant performance and yield.

    This project involves a variety of cutting-edge techniques such as obtaining cell-specific profiles of transcripts, proteins, metabolites and epigenetic marks. Manipulating regulatory circuits within these specialised cell types will give us a better understanding on how to control nutrient fluxes.

  2. Exploring the genetic variation in natural Arabidopsis populations for adaptive traits to low soil phosphorus availability.

    More than 7,000 different Arabidopsis accessions have been collected across the globe. Genomes of many of these have been fully sequenced allowing for genome-wide association studies. We are currently screening more than 700 accessions to identify those that are either more tolerant or more sensitive to changes in phosphate supply.

  3. Using forward genetics combined with next-generation sequencing is a powerful tool to identify novel regulators of phosphorous signalling networks. We are screening for modulators of SPX4 stability under various nutrient regimes. SPX4 is a key sensor of plant nutrient status and a transcriptional repressor of the phosphate starvation response.