Maize is a versatile crop with growing world-wide importance as a staple food, animal feed and source for biofuel. However, climate change challenges the productivity of maize, with high yield modern varieties being especially affected. To meet the demands of a growing population while the amount of arable land remains constant or even decreases, yields need to be improved even during challenging conditions such as prolonged drought, or high heat and salinity.
Exploring different varieties of maize that exhibit resilience against these abiotic stresses can provide us with natural resources for genetic variation that can be employed via genome or base editing and smart breeding approaches to improve resilience of widely used, high yield modern varieties.
However, to utilize such rich resources of natural variation, fine-tuning of gene expression, e.g. by exchanging regulatory elements for stress resistance genes, is needed. A better understanding of gene regulation could allow a more controlled way to achieve stress resilience and lead to much smarter breeding in the future.
Our group aims to identify such regulatory elements that do not disrupt gene functions but confer resistance to abiotic stresses such as drought or high salinity. To this end, we employ and develop novel sequencing technologies, such as MOA-seq and FIND-CIS, to quantitatively analyse of transcription factor binding of regulatory proteins and gene expression in different maize varieties. In combination with phenotypic data, this information will be employed to bioengineer climate change resilient maize plants. Furthermore, we employ a targeted approach to enhance our understanding of maize physiology by analysing the influence of sugar transporters on maize yield.
V-Module 515 Strategies to develop stress tolerance in crops
This module gives students the opportunity to gain insight into novel methods for the characterisation of natural variation in transcriptional networks. We are analysing changes in the chromatin structure of regulatory elements under abiotic stress conditions and how functional polymorphisms can be employed in bioengineering.
We are welcoming inquiries from highly motivated and reliable students to join us for a bachelor or master project. Our work focuses on a wide range of techniques reaching from plant cultivation and phenotyping to molecular biology and bioinformatic analysis. The focus of possible projects can thus be adjusted to the specific interests of potential candidates.