Development & Disease in Plant Sciences
Plant Sciences' contribution to the Development & Disease research theme is to unravel the processes that allow plants to adapt to changing abiotic and biotic environmental conditions or stresses, with the aim to contribute to the sustainable production of food, flowers and bio-based products using crop plants that are more resilient to adverse growth conditions caused by the global climate change.
Members of the plant kingdom are mostly sessile organisms that cannot move around when environmental conditions become adverse for their survival. As such, they have developed a variety of mechanisms to cope with stress conditions such as shade, cold, heat, drought, herbivory or pathogen attacks. An important defense mechanism is provided by the amazing capacity of plants to adapt their growth and development to changes in environmental conditions. The key to this adaptive development lies in the presence of stem cell groups or meristems that allow plants to continuously form new tissues or organs during their life time, which is important for recovery from herbivory or drought- or heat stress, but also allows the plant to explore their environment and optimally position these organs to sources of nutrients, water and light. Apart from these developmental mechanisms, plants have also developed a plethora of strategies to defend themselves against herbivory and pathogen attacks, such as hairs on leaves (trichomes) and/or secondary metabolites to fend of herbivory by insects or signalling mechanisms that provide systemic resistance to bacterial or fungal attacks.
Within the Development & Disease theme, the research focusses on the role of plant hormones and transcription factors in adaptive growth and development on the one hand and in defence against insect and pathogen attacks on the other hand. The plant hormone auxin, or indole-3-acetic acid (IAA), is a central regulator of plant development, and we study how it directs adaptive growth and development. In addition, the role of auxin, other hormones and transcription factors is studied in plant developmental phase transitions, -longevity and -stress resilience. Resistance of plants to pest and pathogens is to a large extend determined by their metabolomic profile and the way this profile is changed after being attacked. Our fundamental research on signaling and regulation of metabolic pathways concentrates on jasmonic acid (JA) signaling, an important signaling pathway in relation to herbivore attack, and salicylic acid (SA) signaling, an important signaling pathway in relation to pathogens.
In view of the plethora of available genome sequences and large genome wide expression data sets and increasingly detailed and complex signalling pathways in development and disease, bio-informatics and mathematical modelling have become of crucial importance in this research theme.