Molecular and Physiological regulation of plant responses to neighbours.
With my research group I study physiological and molecular processes that underpin shoot phenotypic plasticity at high plant densities. Plants display a suite of growth responses to nearby neighbours, called shade avoidance, which include enhanced shoot elongation and upward leaf movement in response to far-red light reflection by neighbours (see picture below (Fig1) for tobacco). These responses enable plants to avoid shading by neighbouring plants.
Alternatively, species from shaded forest understories (see e.g. picture below (Fig2) for a temperate rainforest undergrowth) canot outgrow the giant trees around them an have evolved ways to tolerate low light conditions, including the suppression of shade avoidance responses.
Fig1. Shade avoidance in cultivated tobacco
Fig2. Forest understory Vancouver Island, Canada.
My group studies regulatory pathways leading to shade avoidance responses, primarily in Arabidopsis. This work includes plant-plant interactions in Arabidopsis canopies, light signaling, plant volatiles, hormone interactions and gene expression patterns leading to regulation of cell growth. The schematic below (Fig3) depicts a simplified version of our current understanding of light-mediated nieghbor detection and signaling events. I have an additional interest in multiple stress resistance and work on projects studying crosstalk between competition and defense against pathogens and herbivores, as well as on signalling convergence between shade avoidance and submergence escape.
Fig3. Illustration of light-mediated signaling events in response to neighbor proximity. Image taken from Gommers et al. (2013) Trends in Plant Science 18: 65-71.
PhD students and post-docs involved in shade avoidance and shade tolerance research are:
Paulien Gankema, Debatosh Das, Lot Gommers, Chrysa Pantazopoulou, Franca Bongers (collaboration with Niels Anten and Jochem Evers at Wageningen University), Chiakai Kang, Kate St. Onge and Sara Buti.
This work is supported by various grants from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research NWO-ALW (including VENI (2007-2010), VIDI (acquired in 2013), open competition (2007, 2014) and Ecogenomics (2011-2014) grants) and Utrecht University Focus and Mass investments.