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let's play

"real science has the potential to not only amaze, but also transform the way one thinks of the world and oneself. this is because the process of science is little different from the deeply resonant, natural processes of play. play enables humans (and other mammals) to discover (and create) relationships and patterns. when one adds rules to play, a game is created. this is science: the process of playing with rules that enables one to reveal previously unseen patterns of relationships that extend our collective understanding of nature." - Blackawton et al., 2011, Biology letters

broad research scope

HOW do organisms adapt to the environment and how do they react to different internal and external stimuli?
major players in the conversion of such stimuli into cellular responses are hormones acting as signaling molecules. our lab is primarily interested in understanding the genetics and molecular biology of auxin and other plant hormone responses in the tiny weed arabidopsis thaliana and related brassicaceae. phytohormones are one of the classic fields in plant physiology and the past has shown that understanding hormone action in plants bears great potential for agricultural and horticultural applications. by contributing to the current state of knowledge of hormone biology we hope to participate in the advancement of crop science.

Secondly, we are fascinated by the mechanisms of molecular evolution and how they shape plant growth and development. That ranges from learning about the evolutionary history of signaling genes to phylotranscriptomic approaches to plant evo devo research.
we apply mostly genomics approaches, such as:

natural variation and quantitative genetics of hormone responses

quantitative genetics
we have revealed extensive natural variation for auxin responses in the root in world-wide arabidopsis ecotype collections (see delker et al., Planta 2008). classic genetics tells us that this variation is most likely inherited in a quantitative genetic manner. We are therefore pursuing QTL and association mapping approaches to understand the genetics underlying this variation. Furthermore, we are making an effort to clone selected QTLs with strong effects on auxin-related phenotypes.

population genetics
a possible reason for such natural variation on the physiological level maybe sequence polymorphisms in auxin-associated genes. extensive molecular population genetic analyses allow us to derive selection signatures for the respective gene classes and identify candidate genes which may be the driving forces behind the variation detected.

transcriptional networks

another possible effect contributing to the variation detected are differences on the transcriptional auxin responses between ecotypes. we have observed extensive variation in auxin-induced gene regulation between ecotypes and are using network approaches to understand the causative factors and derive hypotheses thereon (see delker et al., Plant Cell 2010).

evolutionary insights
from an evolutionary perspective it will be important to learn about the differences in auxin responses on the physiological and the transcriptional level between species. Comparison of inter-species with intra-species variation may shed new light on the evolutionary development of the auxin response pathway(s). We are using closely related brassicaceae species such as thlaspi arvense in this picture for this type of analysis which - in addition to the evolutionary perspective - is most interesting for possible future knowledge transfer to agronomically important species from that family.

evo devo

for one, we are interested in the evolutionary history of gene families that are involved in important signaling cascades, such as the ubiquitin-proteasome system (see schumann et al., plant physiology 2011). furthermore, we are developing ways to utilize whole genome transcriptional information for evolutionary approaches in close collaboration with the lab of ivo grosse. by applying phylotranscriptomics – the combination of phylogenetics and transcriptomics – to developmental series such as embryogenesis ( see quint et al., nature 2012), we are able to trace the evolutionary path across a complete developmental process.