How do plants sense ambient temperature?


Leibniz plant biologist Philip Wigge has been awarded a prestigious ERC Advanced grant.

22.04.2021 · Life Sciences · Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops · HP-Topnews · People

Philip Wigge, department head at the Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops (IGZ) in Grossbeeren and Professor at the University of Potsdam, has been awarded a prestigious ERC Advanced grant. The cutting-edge research in the project "TIPTOP - Temperature Integration via Phase Change and Translation of Proteins in Plants", will receive EUR 2.14 million EUR in support from the European Commission over a period of 5 years. These ERC Advanced Grants are intended to support pre-eminent senior researchers across Europe to carry out cutting edge research.

In his ambitious "TIPTOP" research project, Philip Wigge will elucidate the molecular mechanisms by which plants measure temperature and adapt to their environment. In the course of evolution, plants have developed a variety of mechanisms to adapt to changing temperatures. Plants need to be able to quickly capture information about the local temperature and adapt their metabolism and development to survive. Plants use temperature information to make seasonal decisions such as when to flower and grow, as well as short term changes to protect themselves against cold and heat stress. For all these responses, plants must be able to sense temperature.

Research on the mechanisms by which plants sense temperature and adapt their behaviour is particularly relevant to agriculture during an era of rapid climate change. Plants are particularly vulnerable to rapid changes in temperature. For example at least one third of the French wine production worth €2bn was wiped out in the last few weeks due to freezing temperatures. Heat stress can also cause crop losses of about 10 % for every additional 1 ºC increase in temperature. Since extreme weather events are becoming more frequent due to climate heating, it is paramount that we understand how plants sense and use temperature information so that we can breed climate resilient crops.

In the TIPTOP project, Philip Wigge investigates how plants determine a correct temperature signal, even if the surrounding macro- and microclimate fluctuates for a short periods. So far unknown are also the processes how the different temperature signals determined in individual cells are integrated over the entire plant and how this leads to a coordinated reaction in growth and development processes. The project builds on recent advances by the team in understanding how individual proteins and RNA molecules can act as miniature temperature sensors, and uses synthetic biology to re-engineer temperature responsive circuits in the cell.

Philip Wigge is head of the Programme Area “Functional Plant Biology” at the IGZ with a research focus on temperature sensors of plants. With his group, Philip Wigge deciphers the underlying mechanisms of temperature perception and uses this knowledge to develop breeding concepts for climate-resistant crops in horticulture.

Cutting-edge research in Brandenburg

This year, the state of Brandenburg was particularly successful in the European competition for ERC funding, as in addition to the IGZ, the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP) has acquired funds from the renowned ERC program. Top European research is positioned in Brandenburg, covering topics as diverse as the formation of galaxies (at the AIP) and the elucidation of the temperature sensors in a single plant cell (at the IGZ).

ERC Advanced Grant

The “ERC Advanced Grant” is an instrument of the European Research Council (ERC) of the European Commission and supports excellent researchers with an outstanding scientific profile to deliver new knowledge in visionary, groundbreaking and scientifically risky research areas. The ERC's funding program is one of the most important and demanding in Europe. ERC Advanced Grants have been awarded to all scientific disciplines since 2009. In the current call, 2678 applications were submitted across whole Europe.

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