Temperature is a major factor governing distribution and seasonal behavior of plants. Being sessile, plants are highly responsive to small differences in temperature and adjust their growth and development accordingly. The suite of morphological and architectural changes induced by high ambient temperatures is collectively called thermomorphogenesis (Quint et al., 2016, Nature Plants). Understanding the molecular genetic circuitries underlying thermomorphogenesis is particularly relevant in the context of climate change as this knowledge will be key to breed for thermo-tolerant crop varieties in a rational fashion.

The transcription factor PHYTOCHROME INTERACTING FACTOR 4 (PIF4) has emerged as a key player in shoot thermomorphogenesis which controls phytohormone levels and their activity. PIF4 expression, protein levels, and activity are directly regulated by thermosensors such as phyB, ELF3 and PIF7 and involve a complex regulatory network including light signaling pathways, the circadian clock, epigenetic mechanisms and chromatin-level regulation (Delker et al. 2022, Current Opinion in Plant Bilology). In contrast, far less is known about the molecular mechanism that regulate root thermomorphogenesis (Ai et al. 2023, EMBOJ), including the nature of the root thermosensor(s).

The primary thermomorphogenesis research interests are currently:

  • Root thermomorphogenesis 
  • Structure-function analyses of the ELF3-PIF4 regulatory module
  • Translational thermomorphogenesis research

Transcriptional regulation of phenotypic plasticity

Plants have a remarkable capacity for phenotypic plasticity, i.e., to adjust their growth and development to different and changing environmental conditions. Transcriptional reprogramming is a key regulatory aspect of phenotypic plasticity and involves the coordinate action of transcription factors (TFs) and chromatin remodeling. While the biological function of many transcription factor genes in Arabidopsis has been elucidated, the specific molecular mechanisms that regulate their activity are often not well understood due to (partial) functional redundancies, a lack of extensive structure-function analyses and a lack of tissue- and/or cell type specific gene expression data.

We are particularly interested in the following topics: