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How Plants Adapt Genetically to their Environment

Press Release No. 200/2010
16 September 2010
Heidelberg scientists crucially involved in new German Research Foundation Priority Programme

Plants adapt genetically to changes in environmental conditions. But how do they do it? This question is the key issue in a new Priority Programme established by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Scientists from Heidelberg University are crucially involved in the planning and implementation of the programme. Research focuses on the crucifer family, which alongside cultivated plants like rape, cabbage and mustard, also includes thale-cress or mouse-ear cress, the “model plant” of molecular biology. The Department of Biodiversity and Plant Systematics at Heidelberg University’s Institute for Plant Science is participating in the project. It is one of the leading research groups worldwide on the evolution and systematics of crucifers, the Brassicaceae.

“The crucifer family is one of the most important model-plant families in scientific research,” says Prof. Dr. Marcus Koch. “Mouse-ear cress – Arabidopsis thaliana – is what you might call the plant scientist’s mouse or fruit fly. It provides us with an abundance of information enabling us to study its genetic adaptation performance in comparison with other crucifers.” Prof. Koch is director of the Department of Biodiversity and Plant Systematics and a member of the steering committee of the new Priority Programme “Evolutionary Plant Solutions to Ecological Challenges” (SPP 1529) coordinated at the University of Bochum. The Heidelberg scientists will be contributing central modules on the biology and evolution of Brassicaceae by analysing various aspects such as genomic evolution and the population dynamics of selected species. In addition, Heidelberg University’s Botanical Gardens and Herbarium will be providing the integrated research project with seed and plant material.

Coordinator of SPP 1529 is Prof. Dr. Ute Krämer, holder of the Chair of Plant Physiology at the University of Bochum. From 2007 to 2009 she worked as a Heisenberg fellow at Heidelberg’s Institute for Plant Science. Alongside the teams from Bochum and Heidelberg, the programme assembles scientists from the Universities of Jena, Münster and Tübingen and from the Max Planck Institutes for Plant Breeding Research (Cologne) and for Developmental Biology (Tübingen). The researchers will be applying molecular biology methods to ecological issues and using modern technologies to analyse plant performance. Alongside the new light they cast on the way plants adapt genetically to environmental conditions, the investigations are also of major significance for the understanding of the evolution of higher organisms in general and hence for the fundamental questions of human existence.

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Prof. Dr. Marcus A. Koch
Institute of Plant Sciences
phone: +49 621 544655

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