Discovery Frontiers

The Centre Has Defined Three Strategic Areas That Encompass Plant Energy Biology And Provide Focus On Important Questions Of Wide Importance.

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Plant Energy Biology... A new discovery every day!

Organelle Metabolism

CO-LEADERS: SMALL (UWA) AND ATKIN (ANU)

Aim: TUNING ENERGY SYSTEMS AS BETTER ENVIRONMENTAL SENSORS FOR RAPID RESPONSE AND RESILIENCE

The two major organelles (compartments) involved in plant cells are the chloroplast/plastid (for photosynthesis/biosynthetic function) and the mitochondrion (for respiration). These organelles divide and organise their energy conversion operations cooperatively.

This cooperation is pivotal to directing energy capture and storage in the form of sugars, starch, oils, protein and fibre - for all major agricultural products. The metabolism of plant organelles also underlies the growth and performance of plants including their ability to withstand environmental stresses.

The complex and ancient ways in which organelle function and efficiency are influenced and respond to the environment are based on intracellular signalling. This forms the foundation of how plants control the conversion of functionally useful energy. The environmental variables of light quality and duration, temperature, water and nutrient availability all interact with energy systems via these signalling processes.

To maximise the efficiency of energy organelles we will model the efficiency of metabolic strategies in plants; alter the biogenesis of energy organelles; and, co-opt the signalling processes that control the activity of energy organelles during environmental challenges and recovery.

Several subprograms aim to:

  • Model energy processes under varied conditions to choose optimal energy efficiency strategies
  • Modify energy organelle number, quality and function to improve energy processes in variable environments
  • Use the receptors and transducers of organelle signals to integrate changes across whole plants

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Gatekeepers cells and specialisation

CO-LEADERS: GILLIHAM (UA) AND WHELAN (LTU)

Aim: IMPROVING THE EFFICIENCY AND FUNCTION OF 'GATEKEEPER' CELLS THAT CONTROL WHOLE-PLANT PERFORMANCE

The acquisition of nutrients and the control of resource transport through plants are energy intensive, as is the exclusion and cellular detoxification of toxic substances. Key cell-types often form a rate-limiting step within the transport pathway of nutrients, metabolites and toxins - we call these strategically located cells "gatekeepers".

Gatekeeper cells (in roots, stems, leaves) are key sensors and responders to the environment. They function to control the capture and transport of energy, water and nutrients in plants. We will use single-cell analysis and modification to harness the profound impact these cells have on whole plant energy efficiency.

This program is working to improve the efficiency of plant energy use during the acquisition and partitioning of key resources by manipulating the transport properties of the gatekeeper cells for water, carboxylates, phosphate, and salt (NaCl). It links to Program 1 through the use of cell specific energy flux measurements, and by assessment of organelle enhanced plants on nutrient acquisition and toxin tolerance.

Subprograms aim to:

  • Optimise energy use in resource acquisition processes.
  • Maintain cellular energetics optimised in P1 under saline conditions through exclusion and tissue tolerance.
  • Alter phosphate uptake, storage and use as keys to the energy currency of cells.
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P3: Gene variants and epigenetics

CO-LEADERS: LISTER (UWA) AND BOREVITZ (ANU)

Aim: IDENTIFYING EPIGENETIC MARKS AND GENE VARIANTS TO OPTIMISE ENERGY USE ACROSS VARIABLE ENVIRONMENTS

As plants radiate in diverse habitats, plant populations fine-tune their energy transformation systems to withstand and exploit changing environmental conditions. Natural genetic diversity contains many useful traits, the molecular basis of which can now be mined from plant genomes by unifying modern genomics technologies with precision phenotyping and sensitive environmental observation, at both the individual and population levels.

In addition to determining the genetic complement of an organism, it will be critical to understand the epigenetic codes that govern where and when the genetic information is used. Epigenetic modifications do not alter the genome sequence, but can regulate the readout of the underlying genetic information, can be environmentally sensitive and heritable. Thus, it is critical to elucidate their roles in plant metabolism, energy deployment for growth and development and its plasticity and stability, and how they may be harnessed for biotechnological applications.

To understand the genetic and epigenetic control of energy efficiency during plant growth we aim to start dissecting phenomic variation in natural populations through genome wide association mapping (GWAS) and (epi)genome profiling. Knowledge of this variation governing complex plant functions will allow us to select or engineer plants with far more precision for future variable environments.

Subprograms aim to:

  • Exploit (epi)genetic variation to define the gene networks and gene variants that determine energy efficiency.
  • Uncover the role of epigenetics through multigenerational responses to environments.
  • Develop new tools for precision editing of the epigenome to engineer plant energy efficiency.
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