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Stress chromatin biology

Principal Investigator: Prof. Moussa Benhamed​ and ​Prof. Heribert Hirt
To feed the 9 billion people in 2050, agricultural production must increase by 50 %. Currently, more than 60 % of world-wide production of crops is lost due to abiotic and biotic conditions. Therefore, one primary goal in breeding is to generate crops with enhanced stress tolerance. So far, plant breeding was mostly based on genetically modifying crop species, but epigenetic approaches for obtaining long term adaptation and transgenerational stress tolerance are emerging concepts that receive increased attention. It is well-known that plants can be primed by biotic and abiotic factors for improved pathogen resistance, stress tolerance and yield and it is conceivable that the priming responses are dependent on long term somatic memory. Although priming has been associated with modificatons at both the protein level of signalling factors (Beckers et al., 2009) and histones (Kumar and Wigge, 2010) as well as at the DNA level by methylation (Dowen et al., 2012), the molecular mechanisms underlying priming of epigenetic stress tolerance are still poorly understood (Conrath, 2011, Gustat and Mittlesten Scheid, 2012, Ventura et al., 2012). Using a novel chromatin purification protocol and high resolution mass spectrometry proteomics, we have identified a large number of chromatin proteins that become rapidly phosphorylated by stress-induced protein kinases in Arabidopsis thaliana. In the context of this project, we now aim to unravel the role of the modification of these chromatin factors in priming stress tolerance. We expect that this knowledge will strongly contribute to a new concept in future crop breeding for stress tolerance.    
  • G. Beckers, Jaskiewicz M, Liu Y, Underwood WR, He SY, Zhang S, Conrath U. (2009) Mitogen-activated protein kinases 3 and 6 are required for full priming of stress responses in Arabidopsis thaliana. Plant Cell 21, 944–953 
  • Dowen RH, Pelizzola M, Schmitz RJ, Lister R, Dowen JM, Nery JR, Dixon JE, Ecker JR (2012) Widespread dynamic DNA methylation in response to biotic stress. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109, 2183-2191.
  • Gutzat R, Mittelsten Scheid O. (2012) Epigenetic responses to stress: triple defense? Curr Opin Plant Biol. 5:568-73. 
  • Kumar SV, Wigge PA (2010) H2A.Z-containing nucleosomes mediate the thermosensory response in Arabidopsis. Cell 140:136-147.
  • Ventura L, Dona M, Macovei A, Carbonera D, Buttafava A, Mondoni A, Rossi G, Balestrazzi A (2012) Understanding the molecular pathways associated with seed vigor. Plant Physiol Biochem 60:196-206.