35 million SEK for interdisciplinary research on plant stress responses
Åsa Strand, Stefan Björklund and Martin Rosvall, all researchers at Umeå University, have been awarded 35 million SEK from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research for a five-year research program on systems biology. The interdisciplinary project aims to map how plants react to abiotic stresses such as drought or extreme temperatures.
The three researchers from Umeå University bring different expertise to this interdisciplinary project. Åsa Strand’s research is focussed on cellular signalling events, how a change in the environment is perceived and transduced to the nucleus. Stefan Björklund is an expert in the regulation of gene expression in the nucleus and Martin Rosvall develops mathematical models and algorithms to map complex networks. Together, they want to decode how plants acclimate to stressful growth environments.
“We plan to use several different large-scale methods in our project to study how plants can defend themselves against different kinds of stress, e.g. heat, cold or salinity”, explains Åsa Strand, Professor in cell and molecular biology and main applicant of the project. “Extreme heat or cold as well as limited water availability are stress situations that lead to reduced plant productivity and yield.”
Organisms respond to stress primarily by changing their gene expression. Stress signals are received by receptors either on the surface of a cell or by cellular organelles. These stress signals are then transmitted further to the nucleus in the cell where genes are activated to later be translated into proteins that are needed to adapt the organism to the stress situation. A large protein complex in the nucleus, the Mediator complex is conserved in all eukaryotic organisms and plays an essential role in the activation of genes.
“Our research focuses on the role of the Mediator complex in plant acclimation to stress”, says Stefan Björklund, Professor in Medical Biochemistry. “The Mediator complex is a central point that coordinates different signals and controls how much of certain proteins is synthesised so that cells can adapt in the best way to a changing environment. Our hypothesis is that reactions to stress lead to effects in the cell nucleus in a complex and coherent manner.”
Many recent methods for biological research generate massive amounts of data. The challenge is to interpret and analyze these data to infer causal mechanisms. Only by combining large-scale analyses with computational modelling is it possible to better understand interactions between different components in stress response. In this project, Martin Rosvall, Associate Professor in physics, will lead this component of the programme.
“The wide expertise available at the Chemical Biological Centre (KBC) at Umeå University has been crucial for the cooperation that is the basis of our application”, underlines Martin Rosvall. “We are glad to be part of this interdisciplinary research environment.”
Systems biology is a growing research area that aims to understand complex relationships within biological systems. The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research (SSF) has approved nine projects in the frame of the call for proposals in the field of Systems biology and will support those projects in total with 300 million SEK.