Department of Plant Developmental Biology
Plants spend their life in one position, and thrive in locations where they are exposed to a wide variety of environmental conditions. This versatility is possible because plants continuously monitor and respond to environmental stimuli such as light, temperature and the availability of nutrients. Such responses alter the growth habit and form of the plant adapting it to its particular environment. We study the molecular mechanisms that underlie these responses and that enable plants to alter their developmental programmes in response to environmental signals. Our studies employ molecular-genetic, biochemical and cell biology based approaches in the model species Arabidopsis thaliana to investigate several environmental responses. Increasingly, we are also interested in comparative approaches that determine whether the mechanisms discovered in Arabidopsis are also important in other plant species.
Our objective is to describe molecular processes that underlie key plant developmental responses to environmental signals. A striking example of such a response is the control of flowering. Many plants flower in response to environmental signals, thereby generating seasonal patterns in flowering time. This response is important in enabling adaptation of plants to growth in particular places, and in maximizing yields of crop plants. The function of key flowering-time genes and how their regulation by environmental signals enables flowering to occur at particular times of the year is studied in the Department. In particular, we aim to provide a detailed description of the biochemical mechanisms used in Arabidopsis to measure daylength, and to explain how this information is used to control flowering time. How these mechanisms are conserved in other plant species showing distinct responses to daylength will then be analysed. Related programmes study sugar signalling pathways, temporal control of gene expression by the circadian clock and effects of protein modification by ubiquitin or ubiquitin-like proteins. Further programmes develop technology platforms such as T-DNA tagging populations, fluorescent marker proteins and strategies for gene targeting.