Presenting the speakers at Plant Biology Scandinavia 2015: Fascination and probiotics

Jaakko Kangasjärvi studies the complex signalling pathways induced by ozone exposure. From Plant, Cell & Environment (2015) 38: 240

The 26th SPPS Congress, Plant Biology Scandinavia 2015, in Stockholm is just around the corner and in our quest to present all the speakers, we take on with the remaining six. Jaakko Kangasjärvi (Helsinki, Finland), Kazuko Yamaguchi-Shinozaki (Tokyo, Japan), Karin Metzlaff (Brussels, Belgium), Celia Knight (Cambridge, UK), Jens stougaard (Aarhus, Denmark) and Paul Schulze-Lefert (Cologne, Germany). According to the preliminary programme, they will present their lectures on Wednesday and Thursday addressing the sessions Abiotic stress (Kangasjärvi and Yamaguchi-Shinozaki), Education and outreach (Metzlaff and Knight) and Biotic interactions (Stougaard and Schulze-Lefert). Jaakko Kangasjärvi will open the conference’s programme on Wednesday by a talk about reactive oxygen species (ROS). They have traditionally been described as harmful, destructive byproducts of metabolism that involves electron transfer and accidental ‘leakage’ of electrons to molecular oxygen. More recently, however, they are regarded as important signal molecules that relay information about changes in the cells’ external and internal environment, giving the plant an opportunity to respond to changing conditions.

When Kangasjärvi first established his own research group, he took an environmental approach to studying the molecular responses of plants to the air pollutant ozone. “Soon we realized that ozone is actually also a very convenient tool to study the role of extracellular ROS as signaling molecules,” he says and explains that this led to a shift in the group’s research to focus on identification and characterization of components involved in ROS sensing and signaling. Ozone is still of major interest for Kangasjärvi and in a review from 2015 in Plant, Cell and Environment, he and group member Julia Vainonen discuss recent advances in our understanding of ozone interactions with plants and how it can be used as an experimental tool. Kangasjärvi has been several times in Stockholm, so he has no intentions to go sightseeing but will devote all his time to the conference.

Kazuko Yamaguchi-Shinozaki will be talking at the Abiotic stress session. Photo by Takashi Sasaki from www.gov-online.go.jp

Kazuko Yamaguchi-Shinozaki will also deliver her keynote talk during the Abiotic stress session. She did her PhD thesis at Tokyo Institute of Technology about structure of mRNA and efficiency of protein synthesis in eukaryotic systems. She then took several post doc positions in Japan (including RIKEN) and The Rockefeller University in New York, USA, and is now professor at Laboratory of Plant Molecular Physiology at University of Tokyo. The focus of her research group is genetic engineering of agriculturally important crops in order to achieve better stress tolerance and thereby help global efforts for environmental conservation and sustainable crop productivity. To this end, they use cutting edge technology to search for novel stress related genes and promoters.

Such genes may encode proteins like the soybean DREB1/CBF-type transcription factors that are involved in tolerance to abiotic stresses like drought, salt, heat and cold. In a recent paper from 2015 in Plant Journal, Kazuko Yamaguchi-Shinozaki identified 14 DREB1-type transcription factors from a soybean Glycine max genome database and showed that most of them were induced by abiotic stress. The transcription factors, in turn, activated expression of several other stress-related genes. In another recent paper in Plant Cell Environment from 2015 she shows how the related AREB/ABF transcription factors from Arabidopsis have a predominant role in abscisic acid signalling in response to osmotic stress.

The Fascination of Plants Day 2015 was celebrated all over the world, here in the Phillipines. From www.plantday.org

In the session Education and outreach, Karin Metzlaff will talk about EPSO, the European Plant Science Organisation, for which she has been executive director since 2000. EPSO is an umbrella organisation that represents more than 226 research institutes, departments and universities from 30 countries in Europe and beyond. It arranges conferences, workshops, summer schools, meetings and many other events including the annual Fascination of Plants Day. It is a global activity with almost 1000 events all over the world – this year 54 countries participated, including the Phillipines, Saudi Arabia and Belarus. The events are organised locally and take place not only in ‘traditional’ settings like plant science institutions, universities and schools but also in public spaces, theatres, cafés, central city squares and parks – with a unified aim to get everyone thinking about plants.

Metzlaff holds a PhD in plant genetics and molecular biology from Martin-Luther-University in Halle, Germany. Before coming to Brussels in Belgium, where EPSO is based, she was research projects manager at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK with a special focus on cell anatomy and secondary cell wall formation. She represents EPSO in several international councils and organisations and is a member of the steering board of the European Innovation Partnership, EIP-AGRI, that works to foster competitive and sustainable farming and forestry and to ensuring a steady supply of food, feed and biomaterials in harmony with nature.

Celia Knight is an education consultant at University of Cambridge. From www.linkedin.com

The other talk in the Education and outreach session will be addressed by Celia Knight. She is an education consultant dedicated to promoting and facilitating excellent research-led teaching and skills development for the employment market. She founded The Gatsby Plant Science Summer School at University of Leeds in 2004 and still serves as academic coordinator for it now, when it continues at University of Cambridge. In a paper in Plant Cell in 2012, she presented evidence that the one week long summer shool, which is offered to students in the first year of an undergraduate degree, was a driver for making the students selecting more plant science courses and plant-based PhDs.

Knight has also contributed to the development of the web resource the Plant Science TREE. It is an online teaching tool where teachers can download slides, practicals, movies and other material on topical plant science to support their lectures. It complements The Gatsby Plant Science Summer School and includes 42 online cutting-edge plant science research lectures delivered there. The other material is also research-led from over 90 contributors, and where a lecture slide is derived from a research paper it is linked to the original source for reference. The Plant Science TREE is explained in a paper in New Phytologist from 2014.

Jens Stougaard will talk about plant-microbe interactions in root nodules, housing rhizobial bacteria, on Lotus japonicus roots. From news.jic.ac.uk

Though based in the Danish city of Aarhus only around 700 km from Stockholm, Jens Stougaard has only paid short visits to the Swedish capital, so he is excited to spend some more time in the city. “I would like to visit the Vasa museum, I believe this is exceptional,” he says. And when it comes to the conference itself, he is especially interested in the sessions on Development and Epigenetics and gene regulations. His own talk will address the molecular communication between microbes and plants and the involvement of membrane bound receptors used for recognition of bacteria. Stougaard finds it fascinating to understand how plants cope with the complex and diverse community of microbes in their environment. “Plant-microbe interaction is a rich and diverse universe that offers an opportunity to understand the life strategies of very different organisms,” he explains.

As a student, Stougaard’s main interest was on microbes and he did a PhD in microbiology, but then his focus shifted slightly. “In my first postdoc, I had the opportunity to work on rhizobial interaction with legumes. I realized quickly that to make progress, it was necessary to approach these interactions also from the plant side and I then started to work on plants,” he says. This new focus includes rhizobia in root nodules of legumes and with numerous publications – including 9 papers in Nature and Science – it has been extremely successful. Most recently, his research group shows in a paper from May 2015 in New Phytologist how micro RNAs (miRNAs) act to fine-tune the level of transcription factors in Lotus japonicus roots and thereby modulate host response to bacterial symbiont.

Paul Schulze-Lefert has compared the microbiota of plant roots and the human gut. From Cell Host & Microbe (2015) 17: 603

Plant-microbe interactions is also the interest of Paul Schulze-Lefert, but he is taking a broader approach and studies the whole microbiota colonizing both roots and leaves. “It is an apparent paradox, that healthy asymptomatic plants are extensively colonized by microbes ” he explains and continues: “How the innate immune system of plants tolerates dense colonization by bacterial communities was originally one of my motivations to start a research programme on the plant microbiota”. Much like the microbes in the mammalian gut serves many important purposes, the plant microbiota is believed to function in plant nutrition and health. In a paper in Cell Host Microbe from May 2015, Schulze-Lefert has compared the microbiota of plant roots and the human gut and showed that despite a functional relationship between the two organs, there is no overlap of abundant bacterial taxa between their microbiotas.

By establishing Arabidopsis leaf- and root-derived microbiota culture collections, he aims to make reconstitution experiments with germ-free plants to test proposed microbiota functions under laboratory conditions. “On the long run, our work has the potential to develop rational plant probiotics that help protect crop plants against microbial pathogens or act as biofertilizers to reduce the application of synthetic fertilizers in agriculture,” he says. At the conference, Schulze-Lefert is particularly interested in the sessions on plant development and hormone biology, but he is also looking forward to revisiting Stockholm where he has been several times on family vacations and earlier scientific meetings. “I am always keen to learn more about the history of Sweden’s capital, it’s cultural diversity, and it’s people!” he says enthusiastically.

To read the previous presentations, please see the SPPS Newsletter issues March 2015 and December 2014.

You can read more about Plant Biology Scandinavia 2015 at the official webpage.

By Gorm Palmgren, science writer, PhD, www.palmgren.dk