Plants have the ability to use light energy to convert inorganic carbon dioxide to organic sugars, which are used for storage and growth. A general aim of our research is to understand major signals that regulate carbon partitioning to important storage products - such as starch and lipids - in response to environmental factors and physiological inputs. To achieve this, we use a combination of systems biology and hypothesis driven approaches focussing on an integrated analysis (profiling) of plant metabolism in different genotypes and environments. This includes genetic, biochemical and molecular-physiological methods. A further aim is to assess biotechnological applications to improve crops, such as potato, rice and oil-seed rape. Specific topics include:
Sugar regulation of storage metabolism – We discovered a novel redox-mediated post-translational regulation mechanism that adjusts the rate of starch synthesis to the supply of sugars. Studies are in progress to dissect the underlying signalling pathways, focussing on trehalose-6-phosphate as a signal between cytosol and plastid.
Oxygen regulation of storage metabolism - We discovered that even in well oxygenated surroundings, rapidly metabolizing plant tissues - such as growing tubers and developing seeds - can become hypoxic. To minimize the danger of driving themselves into self-imposed anoxia, plants modify their metabolism to decrease oxygen utilization. These adaptive responses to low oxygen require an oxygen sensing and signalling system that is presently unknown in plants. Forward and reversed genetic approaches are used to identify and characterize the components of this system.
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