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Project description:

Project no:
Control of vascular development in Brachypodium distachyon: Impact for biomass yield in the crop plant Miscanthus
1st project leader:
Greiner, Steffen - Centre for Organismal Studies (COS), Heidelberg University
2nd project leader
Greb, Thomas - Centre for Organismal Studies (COS), Heidelberg University
Grasses and especially some species and hybrids of the genus Miscanthus have emerged as candidate crops for the production of lignocellulosic biomass. Besides yield under certain environmental conditions, cell wall composition is the most agronomically important trait. Remarkable progress has been achieved regarding the factors controlling secondary cell wall formation and lignin composition in vascular cells of Miscanthus very recently (Golfier et al. 2017, Golfier et al. 2019). However, factors directly controlling the formation of vascular cells are not sufficiently investigated so far. While there is good knowledge on factors controlling vascular tissue formation in eudicots, this knowledge is difficult to transfer to monocots because of the entirely different development and morphology of the vascular system: Vascular bundles are scattered throughout the stem (not concentric as in eudicots), and there is no cambium-based shoot and root thickening. Interestingly, central regulators of these processes, like WOX4 (Suer et al., 2011, Brackmann et al. 2018), DOF (Miyashima et al., 2019) and SMXL (Wallner et al., 2017) have counterparts in the monocot clade. To elucidate their function in monocots, we will use the grass model Brachypodium distachyon. This species has a small sequenced genome, a short life cycle and is accessible for genetic manipulation (CRISPR, Raissig et al. 2017). Therefore, Brachypodium is ideal for studying vascular development by following a candidate gene approach and investigate the role of the homologs of those well-studied factors in monocots. We will use CRISPR/Cas9 and fast track functional genomics to establish Brachypodium mutants of respective genes. These mutants will be characterized by histological, transcriptional and physiological means. If successful, vascular-related traits will be modulated in Brachypodium and Miscanthus taking advantage of the identified factors.
Golfier, P, Volkert, C, He, F, Rausch, T, Wolf, S. Regulation of secondary cell wall biosynthesis by a NAC transcription factor from Miscanthus. Plant Direct. 2017; 1: 1– 13.

Golfier, P., Unda, F., Murphy, E.K., Xie, J., He, F., Zhang, W., Mansfield, S.D., Rausch, T., Wolf, S. Distinct and overlapping functions of Miscanthus sinensis MYB transcription factors SCM1 and MYB103 in lignin biosynthesis bioRxiv 629709; 7. May 2019 doi:

Miyashima, S., Roszak, P., Sevilem, I., Toyokura, K., Blob, B., Heo, J., Mellor, N., Help-Rinta-Rahko, H., Otero, S., Smet, W., et al. (2019). Mobile PEAR transcription factors integrate hormone and miRNA cues to prime cambial growth. Nature 565, 490-494.

Suer, S., Agustí, J., Sanchez, P., Schwarz, M., and Greb, T. (2011). WOX4 Imparts Auxin Responsiveness to Cambium Cells in Arabidopsis. Plant Cell 23, 3247-3259.

Wallner, E.S., Lopez-Salmeron, V., Belevich, I., Poschet, G., Jung, I., Grunwald, K., Sevilem, I., Jokitalo, E., Hell, R., Helariutta, Y., et al. (2017). Strigolactone- and Karrikin-Independent SMXL Proteins Are Central Regulators of Phloem Formation. Current biology : CB 27, 1241-1247.

Raissig, M.T., Matos, J.L., Anleu Gil, M.X., Kornfeld, A., Bettadapur, A., Abrash, E., Allison, H.R., Badgley, G., Vogel, J.P., Berry, J.A., et al. (2017). Mobile MUTE specifies subsidiary cells to build physiologically improved grass stomata. Science 355, 1215.

Brackmann, K., Qi, J., Gebert, M., Jouannet, V., Schlamp, T., Grünwald, K., Wallner, E.-S., Novikova, D.D., Levitsky, V.G., Agustí, J., et al. (2018). Spatial specificity of auxin responses coordinates wood formation. Nature Communications 9, 875.
Methods that will be used:
CLSM, in situ, qRT PCR, plant transformation (CRISPR), bioinformatics
Collaboration partners:
Dr. Michael Raissig,
Dr. Sebastian Wolf,
Prof. Thomas Rausch,
Prof. Jan Lohmann
(COS Heidelberg)
Expected candidate‘s qualification:
Candidates should hold a Master’s degree in biology, plant sciences or molecular biology. The ideal candidate should be willing to establish novel technologies and be interested in evolution and in quantitative aspects of biology. A background in histology, microscopy or gene expression analyses would be desirable. The candidate should also be able to work independently as well as in a team, be well organised and prepared to work in an international environment. Good interpersonal communication skills and an excellent command of the English language are essential.
Miscanthus, Brachypodium, biomass yield, vascular development, functional genomics