Crop yield in maize (Thomas Hartwig)
Targeted genome editing is transforming bio-engineering, however, knowing what to target is still one of the biggest limitations to improve crop productivity. Our research integrates innovative genetic approaches with state of the art sequencing platforms, such as hybrid allele-specific transcription factor binding and transcriptome analysis. Currently, we are developing a high throughput platform to pinpoint genome-wide cis-regulatory variants associated with drought tolerance in maize and barely. The long-term goal of our research is to gain a deeper understanding of how genetic variants facilitate variation of phenotypes, as well as how to utilize such variation to improve crop productivity or reduce nutrient input.
Maize is a versatile crop with growing world-wide importance as a staple food, animal feed and source for biofuel. However, climate change challenges the productivity of maize, with high yield modern varieties being especially affected. To meet the demands of a growing population while the amount of arable land remains constant or even decreases, yields need to be at least stabilised but preferentially improved even during challenging conditions such as prolonged drought or high salinity.
Exploring different varieties of maize that exhibit resilience against these abiotic stresses can provide us with a natural source for genetic variation that can be employed in genome editing or smart breeding approaches to improve resilience of widely used, high yield modern varieties.
However, such approaches usually come with a trade-off in yield during non-stress conditions. This is partially due to most classic population analyses focusing on varieties permanently changing or disrupting gene functions. Fine-tuning of gene expression, e.g. by exchanging regulatory elements for stress resistance genes, could allow a more controlled way to achieve stress resilience while keeping yield at a maximum.
Our group aims to identify such regulatory elements that do not disrupt gene functions but confer resistance to abiotic stresses such as drought or high salinity. To this end, we employ and develop novel sequencing technologies to quantitatively analyse DNA packaging, binding of regulatory proteins and gene expression in different maize varieties. In combination with phenotypic data, this information will be employed to bioengineer climate change resilient maize plants. Furthermore, we employ a targeted approach to enhance our understanding of maize physiology by analysing the influence of sugar transporters on maize yield.
We are welcoming inquiries from highly motivated and reliable students to join us for a bachelor or master project. Our work focuses on a wide range of techniques reaching from plant cultivation and phenotyping to molecular biology and bioinformatic analysis. The focus of possible projects can thus be adjusted to the specific interests of potential candidates.