How plants adapt to environmental change
LMU will host a new transregional Collaborative Research Center, funding for which has now been approved by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.
Unlike animals, plants cannot actively choose or change their habitats, but must adapt their physiology in response to fluctuations in ambient conditions. The new transregional Collaborative Research Center hosted by LMU will be devoted to elucidating the cellular processes that provide the basis for this adaptability and identifying the molecular switches that control it. As its title (“The Chloroplast as a Central Node in the Acclimation of Plants”) implies, TRR 175 will focus in particular on the role of the photosynthetic organelles. The researchers involved in the interdisciplinary, multicenter venture plan to investigate how plants react to short- and long-term fluctuations in temperature and light intensity.
Recent work has revealed that the chloroplasts – the organelles in which photosynthesis takes place – play a critical, two-fold role in the initiation and coordination of acclimation processes in green plants: They not only serve as sensors that register alterations in environmental parameters, but also initiate the physiological responses that enable plants to cope with such changes. “Our goal is to obtain a comprehensive understanding of how plants adapt to new environmental conditions. To do so, we will use strategies drawn from systems biology to dissect how chloroplasts function as tiny intracellular organs in this context,” says Dario Leister, who holds the Chair of Plant Molecular Biology at LMU and is the designated Coordinator of the new CRC.
In fact, the researchers hope to gain a sufficiently detailed picture of the underlying mechanisms to enable them to trigger these adaptive programs in a targeted fashion. This would in turn permit the development of novel breeding programs designed to select for crop plants that can cope better with climatic fluctuations than the varieties now available.
The new CRC formally gets underway on July 1st 2016. Funding amounting to a total of some 9 million euros for an initial period of 4 years has been approved by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. In addition to teams at LMU as designated host university, researchers based at the Humboldt University in Berlin, the Technical University in Kaiserslautern and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology in Golm will take part in the project.
LMU is also a participant in a second new transregional CRC. TRR 179, which is hosted by Heidelberg University, will study “Determinants and Dynamics of Elimination vs. Persistence in Hepatitis Virus Infections”. The long-term aim of this project is to develop an approach to the treatment of hepatitis that can completely eliminate the pathogen from all tissues, and thus prevent infections from becoming chronic.
In addition to establishing 20 new CRCs, the DFG also announced that a number of existing Research Centers in which LMU is involved will receive funding for another four years:
CRC 1032 (Nanoagents for Spatial and Temporal Control of Molecular and Cellular Reactions) is devoted to the development of artificial biomolecular structures for the study and control of molecular and cellular processes. Spokesperson for this CRC is LMU’s Professor Joachim Rädler (Faculty of Physics).
TRR 127 (Biology of Xenogeneic Cell and Organ Transplantation – from Bench to Bedside) investigates xenogeneic rejection mechanisms and ways to control them, as well as probing the ethical, legal and sociopolitical issues associated with xenotransplantation. The new spokesperson for this CRC is Professor Eckhard Wolf, who holds the Chair of Molecular Animal Breeding and Biotechnology at LMU.
LMU is a partner in TRR 128 (Initiating, Effector and Regulatory Mechanisms in Multiple Sclerosis) and CRC 1035 (Control of Protein Function by Conformational Switching), funding for which will also be extended.