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Unsere Forschung

Molecular and evolutionary adaptations of plant development and physiology to changing environments

As sessile organisms, plants have very limited control over their environment. They compensate for this with extraordinary plasticity, adapting their structure and physiology in real time and over evolutionary timescales. In the course of plant evolution, adaptive traits have evolved to ensure reproductive success in a wide range of environmental conditions. But the environment is variable, and so natural selection for most adaptive traits also led to the evolution of regulatory mechanisms that adjust them at the molecular level in response to the immediate environment.

We are interested in central metabolic processes involved in plant adaptations to the ever-changing environment, focussing on organic acid metabolism (Drincovich et al., 2016; Maurino and Engqvist, 2015) and metabolite damage control systems (Hüdig et al., 2018).

© Prof. Maurino

Organic acids are intermediates of major carbon processing pathway in plant cells. A key organic acid is malate, which is involved in central pathways such as mitochondrial respiration, photorespiration, and the photosynthetic C4 cycle. Malate also plays an important role in redox signalling and physiological responses to biotic challenges and to metal ions in the soil. One of our main research topics is the cellular function and regulation of proteins involved in malate metabolism (Balparda et al., 2022; Fuchs et al., 2020; Elsässer, et al., 2020; Badia et al., 2020; Racca et al., 2018, Pires et al., 2016; Welchen et al, 2016; Badia et al., 2015; Voll et al., 2012; Zell et al., 2010).

Plant metabolism extends well beyond the limits of central metabolic pathways. As a real-world system, it is not as orderly and perfect as it is taught in classical biochemistry classes. Spontaneous reactions and the side activity of enzymes contribute to the formation of unwanted compounds, which in most cases are harmful to the cell. These "damaged molecules” proliferate when plants are exposed to stress factors. To control metabolite damage, plants have evolved at least three different types of systems, based on repair, steering, and scavenging, respectively (Hüdig et al., 2015). We aim to decipher the molecular evolution and regulation of proteins involved in prominent plant control systems. We are specifically interested in the photorespiratory pathway as an example of repair systems (Schmitz et al., 2020; Schmitz et al, 2017; Hagemann et al., 2016; Esser et al., 2014); the C4 photosynthetic pathway as an example of steering systems (Hüdig et al., 2022; Tronconi et al., 2020; Alvarez et al., 2019; Bovdilova et al., 2019); the glyoxylase pathway as a scavenging system for reactive carbonyl species (Schmitz et al., 2018; Schmitz et al., 2017). We also investigate the regulatory functions of reactive oxygen- and carbonyl species in cellular metabolism and function (Schmidt et al., 2020; von der Mark et al., 2020; Sewelam, 2014; Balazadeh et al., 2012).

The research activities of my group not only contribute to a detailed understanding of central plant metabolic processes. We are also developing strategies to improve plant responses to environmental changes, leading to better resource utilization and higher yields (Drincovich and Maurino, 2022; Maurino, 2019; Müller et al, 2018; Maier et al, 2012). Tackling these important questions requires the combination of techniques from biochemistry, molecular biology, physiology, and bioinformatics, firmly embedding our research in an interdisciplinary context.

Currently, we are working on the following projects:

  1. Molecular evolution of malate decarboxylases for their function in C4 photosynthesis and housekeeping metabolism
  2. Molecular evolution of scavenging systems for reactive species
  3. Regulation of mitochondrial metabolic functions under changing cellular energetic status and its impact on cyto-nuclear redox signalling
  4. Molecular plant responses to abiotic and biotic stresses

Unsere Forschung wird unterstützt durch Mittel von:

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