New Emmy Noether Junior Research Group: Water-Saving Grasses
15 May 2018
A new Emmy Noether junior research group has taken up its work at the Centre for Organismal Studies (COS) of Heidelberg University. Group leader Dr Michael Raissig and his team are studying how grasses form microscopic “breathing” pores on their leaves. The researchers hope to unravel why the grass family, which includes major food crops like rice, maize and wheat, can exchange gases with the atmosphere so efficiently, thus conserving water in the process. Over the next five years, the “Biology of Stomata” research group will receive funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG) totalling approximately 1.5 million euros.
Plants use sunlight to turn carbon dioxide (CO2) and water into sugar and oxygen. To take up CO2 from the atmosphere, land plants form microscopic “breathing” pores on their leaves, the so-called stomata. Usually, stomata consist of two guard cells surrounding the air pore, but grasses add lateral “helper cells” to the central guard cells. “When plants open their stomata to take up CO2 for photosynthesis, they lose water at the same time,” says Dr Raissig. “The helper cells enable the stomata to open and close more quickly, which helps the grasses conserve water. By combining developmental genetics, sophisticated cellular imaging and physiological gas exchange measurements, we have the unique opportunity to study this evolutionary innovation from genes to cells to the physiology of whole plants”, adds Dr Raissig. “This could give impetus to further research on how to prepare other, less water-efficient crops for climate change.”
Michael Raissig studied biology and earned his doctorate in plant developmental genetics at the University of Zürich in Switzerland. In 2014 he joined Stanford University (USA) as a postdoctoral scholar funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Life Science Research Foundation. There, Dr Raissig began to genetically analyse how the grasses form their innovative stomata. He is currently building his Emmy Noether junior research group at the Centre for Organismal Studies.