13 December 2018

How a protein inhibits plant growth at high and low temperatures

MSc graduate arranges her own PhD funding

NWO ENW has awarded a Graduate School Green Top Sector talent grant to the recently graduated MSc student Myrthe Praat. The grant enables her to finance her own PhD research. Praat aims to study the role that the protein MPK6 plays in the growth of the plants Arabidopsis thaliana, lettuce, tomato, and chrysanthemum. The signal transduction protein Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase6 (MPK6) inhibits growth at both high and low temperatures.

Myrthe Praat

Environmental temperature strongly impacts the growth of plants. For example, every degree rise in temperature can result in up to 10% loss of the harvest. Praat therefore aims to understand how plants deal with temperature signals. She explains: “During the course ‘Abiotic Stress’ at the University of Amsterdam, where I did my Master’s, UU researcher Dr. Martijn van Zanten (Institute of Environmental Biology) gave a lecture that sparked my interest in how plants adapt to temperature changes. My first step in this research field was an internship in Cambridge, U.K., which dealt with the molecular regulation of thermomorphogenesis, a process in which plants adjust their body plan to the temperature in their environment. I then wrote my Master’s thesis on how epigenetic processes regulate growth adaptations in plants under cold- and heat stress conditions. At the same time, Martijn and I were working on this research proposal.”

This shows how important it is to involve our research directly in our education

From model plant to food supply
“This shows how important it is to involve our research directly in our education”, posits Van Zanten. He explains why they use the model plant Arabidopsis in their research: “We want to know how a single factor can regulate growth as a result of contrasting signals: both heat and cold. To do that, we use the model plant Arabidopsis, because we know all of its genes and proteins, and we can study the entire genome and proteome using advanced technologies. The plant is also easy to use, and it displays strong growth adaptation to both high and low temperature signals. With the generated knowledge, we hope to facilitate the development of temperature-resistant crops, which can help us secure our food supplies in a changing climate. The fact that three plant breeding companies will directly apply the new knowledge in economically relevant crops, and co-finance this project, highlights how relevant this research is.”

Graduate School Green Top Sectors Talent Grant
This NWO ENW programme stimulates the training of talented young researchers, and promotes the exchange of knowledge between academic institutions and companies. Usually, a researcher acquires a grant and then hires a PhD candidate to conduct the research, but in this case the candidate writes the proposal. Praat took the initiative and asked Van Zanten to supervise her. Van Zanten: “Myrthe is an extremely competent researcher with excellent communication skills. She has all of the knowledge and technical expertise to make this project a big success, and supplements this with a strong willpower to succeed. Together She wrote the project proposal together with me, but she successfully defended it in front of an extremely critical NWO evaluation committee.”

Future Food Utrecht
This research is embedded in Future Food Utrecht, an interdisciplinary research focus from Utrecht University that aims to find new solutions for a sustainable and healthy food supply acceptable and accessible for the world population. We focus at solutions that arise from understanding the fundamental mechanisms and integrate knowledge and ideas from the full range of food related disciplines. Future Food Utrecht scientists include botanists, pharmaceutical scientists, social scientists, urban geographers, medical scientists, ethicists, economists and veterinary researchers.