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Current research projects for students

We cordially invite students who share our interest in plant sciences and the molecular mechanisms underlying interactions of plants with their biotic and abiotic environment to join our laboratory and perform their Bachelor, Master or PhD thesis with us. We can offer a number of sub-projects of the following four major projects running in our laboratory:

Project 1: Transcriptional control of mycorrhiza-specific phosphate transporter gene expression

In plants forming the arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis, substantial amounts of nutrients, especially phosphate, are absorbed via the mycorrhizal nutrient uptake pathway. In this project, the regulation of mycorrhiza-specific phosphate transporter genes is studied at the transcriptional level. The work builds up on RNA sequencing and protein-protein interaction studies including key transcription factors.

Project 2: Genetic dissection of the mycorrhiza symbiosome

The arbuscular mycorrhiza is a ubiquitous symbiosis between most land plants and soil fungi of the phylum Glomeromycota. This project aims at a molecular understanding of the development and function of the mycorrhiza symbiosome, which is the site in the root cortex where the two symbiotic partners exchange essential nutrients and signalling compounds. Candidate genes from the model plant Lotus japonicus with presumed functions in the symbiosome will be investigated using functional genomics tools.

Project 3: Fundamental molecular mechanisms underlying mycobiome diversity 

Brassicaceae species like Arabidopsis thaliana do not form a mycorrhizal symbiosis but harbor numerous often unknown fungal endophytes which live as commensals or symbiotically supporting plant life. Interactions between endophytes and different Brassicaceae species at the species and community level will be explored using next-generation sequencing and including the study of whether the plant genotype affects fungal endophyte community and if, why? The project is located at the interface between ecological genetics and molecular physiology and is supported by collaborations with colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne.

Project 4: Regulatory network controlling phosphate starvation inducible genes in Arabidopsis thaliana and related species of the Brassicaceae

Phosphorus limits productivity in most ecosystems because the availability of inorganic phosphate (Pi), the only form of P that is directly used by cells, is often very low in natural environments. Phosphate starvation conditions induce the so-called PSI (phosphate starvation-inducible) genes which belong to the Pho regulon. PSI genes code for proteins involved in Pi transport, the assimilation of P-containing compounds, and maintenance of cellular Pi homeostasis. In this project, natural variation in the response to Pi starvation stress in plant species of the Brassicaceae (which include Arabidopsis thaliana) is investigated. Moreover, the regulatory network underlying the cross-talk between the Pho regulon and other response pathways, i.e., response to light and developmental signals is investigated (collaboration with the Höcker and Hülskamp laboratories).

Project 5: Biological roles of lyso-phospholipids in plant development and plant-microbe interactions

Lyso-phospholipids (lyso-PLs) derive from glycerophospholipids or sphingolipids. Lyso-PLs are not only metabolites in membrane phospholipid synthesis, but also extra- or intracellular bioactive mediators of multiple biological processes. The functions of lyso-PLs in plants are poorly understood. We have great interest in elucidating the role of lyso-PLs in cellular reprogramming in plants in response to biotic and abiotic stimuli. State-of-the-art techniques including RNA-sequencing, liquid chromatography mass spectrometry and reverse and forward genetics are exploited to study lyso-PLs in Arabidopsis thaliana and mycorrhizal Lotus japonicus.