Fields of research
The three main research areas - metabolism, transport processes, and plants' interaction with the surrounding environment - are interdisciplinary. Thus, the description of the areas is not a description of the three research groups although the emphasis attached to the areas differ within the research groups.
The metabolism of plants in a broad sense is a major topic of research at the Department. Our research embraces the mechanisms for the basic assimilation of carbon including the biochemistry and regulation of photosynthesis and carbohydrate metabolism. Furthermore, we perform research into biosynthesis and the significance of polysaccharides in the form of starch and cell wall components such as pectin and hemi-cellulose. Our research also embraces biosynthesis and the significance of natural substances; especially cyanogenic glucosides and glucosinolates. Our vision is to understand both the molecular mechanisms in detail and to understand which role the different parts of the metabolism play in the whole plant’s growth and development. Regulation of the metabolism is of seminal importance and also forms part of our research. Regulation should be interpreted in the broadest sense of the word and embraces both transcriptional and posttranscriptional regulation. As a starting point our research is basic, but we also aim to exploit our substantial expertise for a more targeted development of plants with new traits.
The living plant needs constant transport of nutrients from the soil and photosynthetic products from leaves to the parts of the plant which require nutrition, e.g., fruits, seeds and biotrophic pathogens. The Department of Plant Biology and Biotechnology has an extended expertise within the area of the plant’s transport pathways and nutrient barriers. Long distance transport typically involves one or more apoplastic steps where cytoplasmatic nutrients are exported to the apoplasm and reimported into a new symplastic continuum, while regulated passage of nutrients from cell to cell through the symplasm processes through cell connectors (plasmodesmata). Intracellularly, metabolites and proteins are transported among organelles as chloroplasms, Golgi vesicles and the plasma membrane. At the cellular and molecular level, the Department of Plant Biology and Biotechnology aspires to map the nodal centres for transport and to determine the molecular factors that provide the energy for these processes and those that regulate them. Such research will be of the outmost importance in developing crops which are more tolerant of abiotic stress (e.g., nutrient deficiency, salt and drought), and for future improvement of the nutritional composition of food products – including the presence of essential micronutrients and the absence of toxic heavy metals.
Plants’ interactions with the surrounding environment
In developing effective strategies for plant protection, the analysis and understanding of the mechanisms behind a plant’s interactions with plant pathogenic microorganisms and non-biologic stress is vital. The pathogens employ e.g., cell wall decomposing enzymes, toxins and hormone-like substances to obtain access to the plant’s resources. Plants defend themselves against these attacks by employing a variety of mechanisms. At the Department of Plant Biology and Biotechnology we focus on host-pathogen interactions on a molecular, biochemical and cellular level and on the understanding of these interactions in both the whole plant and in populations. We study the pathogen’s suppression of the plant’s defence, the plant’s signal transduction and the regulation of its defence reaction. The exploitation of resistance mechanisms involves population dynamic principles of both the host and the pathogen. We focus on the interactions which can produce biological control and growth promoting characteristics in the plant. Furthermore, we conduct research in abiotic stress focusing on plants’ reaction to light, cold, salt and heavy metals.
Healthy crops are a prerequisite for healthy economy in the agricultural sector in our industrialized agricultural sector, in transition economy countries and not least in the developing countries. The Department of Plant Biology and Biotechnology has a sound knowledge of the identification of important pathogens (fungi, bacteria, viruses) in temperate as well as tropical climates, and it also has a basic understanding of the life cycle of the pathogens, of infection biology and of toxin-producing characteristics, all of which are central preconditions in designing proper strategies for producing healthy seed and healthy crops. We aim to further develop our diagnostic resources, our understanding of pathogens’ significance and the possibilities of eliminating or minimizing their effect. Moreover, we aim at supporting governments, regulatory authorities and seed producers, not least in the Third World, in the effort of ensuring the supply and availability of good, healthy seed of the most important crops.