My group focuses on understanding the regulatory mechanisms by which plants integrate abiotic stress-derived signals into growth and developmental programs, and the molecular machinery that underlies stress memory in plants.
Abiotic stresses reduce plant growth and crop productivity and, hence, are serious threats to agriculture and, therefore, human well-being. The aim of my research is to understand how plants respond to abiotic stresses such as drought and high temperature and find ways to improve the growth and productivity of plants/crops under stress conditions.
Currently, we are pursuing the following projects:
Identification and functional characterization of transcription factors (TFs) and gene regulatory networks (GRNs) involved in the adaptation of plant growth to environmental changes
The response to environmental cues in plants is a highly-regulated process that requires the coordinated regulation of gene expression. Defects in gene regulatory mechanisms can result in diseases and severe interference with various developmental and physiological processes. In plants, gene regulation is essential for economically important traits. Gene regulation is the task of transcription factors (TFs). Together with their target genes, the TFs constitute gene regulatory networks (GRNs) that are central to almost all biological processes.
Using cutting-edge methods from molecular biology, cell biology, and functional genomics approaches, we are characterizing TFs and identify their signalling pathways including their target genes and GRNs. During the last years, we have developed several projects to uncover the cellular functions of senescence- and/or abiotic stress-associated TFs and identify their GRNs, providing new insights into the physiological and developmental functions of such regulatory proteins for the regulation of plant growth and responses to stress.
Regulation of stress memory
One of the strategies developed by plants to survive stressful events is the ability to anticipate future stress by remembering a past stress experience, which requires the establishment of a so-called ´stress memory´. The memory of a past event may shape the response to future signals and may have significant effects on the survival and fitness of the organism. Currently, however, the molecular, biochemical and physiological mechanisms of stress memory are not well understood.
Recently, we discovered that the regulation of the in vivo stability of heat shock proteins (or chaperones in general) - and thus the ability to retain a good protein quality control system – represents an important cellular mechanism for establishing a memory about previous heat stress. Furthermore, we discovered that plants employ organ-specific mechanisms for establishing memory programs.
Currently, we are unravelling the mechanisms that control heat stress memory, both during vegetative and reproductive growth and at the organ-specific level (e.g. pollen) in Arabidopsis thaliana and tomato.
We are using Arabidopsis thaliana and tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) as comparative model systems. Recently, we started to expand our research on important seed crops such as barley (Hordeum vulgare) and quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa).
Salma Balazadeh completed her PhD with a Dr. rer. nat. degree in Molecular Plant Biology in 2008 at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology (MPI-MP) and the University of Potsdam, Germany. Thereafter, she continued as a Postdoctoral Research Assistant and from 2010 until November 2016 she headed the Cooperative Research Group “Gene Regulatory Networks” at the MPI-MP. In 2016, Dr Salma Balazadeh obtained her habilitation degree in Molecular Plant Physiology (Dr. rer. nat. habil.) from the University of Potsdam, Faculty of Science.
Currently, she is an Associate Professor of Molecular Plant Biology at Leiden University, The Netherlands, and a Research Group Leader at the MPI-MP in Potsdam, Germany. Her research focuses on understanding the signalling mechanisms in plants that trigger responses to environmental stresses and on unravelling the cellular processes through which plants counteract such stresses. Salma Balazadeh has published over 50 refereed papers in international journals, work which has attracted the following citation statistics: Google Scholar indices (February 2020): h-index = 29; total citations = 3120.
Thirumalaikumar, V.P., Devkar, V., Mehterov, N., Ali, S., Ozgur, R., Turkan, I., Mueller-Roeber, B. and Balazadeh, S. (2018) NAC transcription factor JUNGBRUNNEN1 enhances drought tolerance in tomato. Plant Biotechnology Journal, 16: 354-366.
Sedaghatmehr, M., Mueller-Roeber, B. and Balazadeh, S. (2016) The plastid metalloprotease FtsH6 and small heat shock protein HSP21 jointly regulate thermomemory in Arabidopsis. Nature Communications, 7: 12439.
Shahnejat-Bushehri, S., Tarkowska, D., Sakuraba, S., and Balazadeh, S. (2016) Arabidopsis NAC transcription factor JUB1 regulates GA/BR metabolism and signalling. Nature Plants, 2: 16013.
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