GARNet Research Roundup: July 26th 2019

This summer-time-reading bumper edition of the GARNet Research Roundup begins with two papers from the University of Sheffield that each use advanced imaging techniques. Firstly Andrew Fleming’s group leads a study on the link between stomatal function and mesophyll space morphology. Second is a study from Matthew Johnson’s group that looks at the dynamic arrangement of thylakoid stacks.

Next are two papers that include Alison Smith from the JIC as a corresponding author. The first also includes Vasilios Andriotis from the University of Newcastle and looks at the role of the plastidial pentose phosphate pathway during post-germination growth. Second uses a gene-editing strategy to generate potatoes with altered starch morphologies.

The fifth paper also looks at starch; researchers from Cambridge and Norwich are involved in a study that characterises the role of the LIKE SEX4 1 protein in starch degradation.

The sixth paper is from Aberystwyth University and identifies a transcription factor that alters secondary cell wall composition in Brachypodium and maize. Next is research from the University of Bath that looks at the role of a protein S-acyl transferase during seed germination.

The eighth and ninth papers are led by Spanish research groups and include contributions from UK-based co-authors in Cambridge and Nottingham, working on photoperiod perception or phosphate signaling respectively.

The tenth paper features work from Cardiff University and looks at the role of heterologous expression of the Arabidopsis WEE1 protein. The Bancroft lab from the University of York leads the next paper that investigates glucosinolate signaling in Brassica napus.

The final three manuscripts are methods papers. The first from Edinburgh introduces a new NanoLUC reporter whilst the other two include techniques involved in the investigation of light-regulated growth processes.


Lundgren MR, Mathers A, Baillie AL, Dunn J, Wilson MJ, Hunt L, Pajor R, Fradera-Soler M, Rolfe S, Osborne CP, Sturrock CJ, Gray JE, Mooney SJ, Fleming AJ (2019) Mesophyll porosity is modulated by the presence of functional stomata. Nat Commun. doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-10826-5

Open Access

This UK-wide study is led from Andrew Fleming’s lab in Sheffield and includes Marjorie Lundgren as first author (now working in Lancaster). They use microCT imaging alongside more traditional measurements linked to analysis of gas exchange to show that mesophyll airspace formation is linked to stomatal function in both Arabidopsis and wheat. This allows the authors to propose that coordination of stomata and mesophyll airspace pattern underpins water use efficiency in crops.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-10826-5

Wood WH, Barnett SFH, Flannery S, Hunter CN, Johnson MP (2019) Dynamic thylakoid stacking is regulated by LHCII phosphorylation but not its interaction with photosystem I. Plant Physiol. doi: 10.1104/pp.19.00503

Open Access

William Wood is the first author on this study from the University of Sheffield that uses 3D structured illumination microscopy (3D-SIM) to look at the dynamics of thylakoid stacking in both Arabidopsis and spinach. They show that the processes they observe are dependent on light harvesting complex II phosphorylation.

http://www.plantphysiol.org/content/early/2019/06/11/pp.19.00503.long

Andriotis VME, Smith AM (2019) The plastidial pentose phosphate pathway is essential for postglobular embryo development in Arabidopsis. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1908556116

Open Access

Vasilios Andriotis (now at the University of Newcastle) is the lead author of this work performed in Alison Smith’s lab at the JIC. They look at the role of the plastidial oxidative pentose phosphate pathway (OPPP) during embryo development. This involved demonstrating that production of ribose-5-phosphate (R5P), which in turn leads to synthesis of purine nucleotides, is a critical function of the OPPP.


Tuncel A, Corbin KR, Ahn-Jarvis J, Harris S, Hawkins E, Smedley MA, Harwood W, Warren FJ, Patron NJ, Smith AM (2019) Cas9-mediated mutagenesis of potato starch-branching enzymes generates a range of tuber starch phenotypes. Plant Biotechnol J. doi: 10.1111/pbi.13137

Open Access

Alison Smith and Nicola Patron who work in Norwich Research Park are corresponding authors of this study that includes Aytug Tuncel as first author. They have used Cas9-mediated gene editing to generate potato plants that have a range of different tuber starch structures. This shows that gene-editing techniques allows the transgene-free alteration to generate potentially healthier crops.


Schreier TB, Umhang M, Lee SK, Lue WL, Shen Z, Silver D, Graf A, Müller A, Eicke S, Stadler M, Seung D, Bischof S, Briggs SP, Kötting O, Moorhead GB, Chen J, Zeeman SC (2019) LIKE SEX4 1 acts as a β-amylase-binding scaffold on starch granules during starch degradation. Plant Cell. doi: 10.1105/tpc.19.00089

Open Access

Tina Schreier from the University of Cambridge is the first author on this international study led from Switzerland that also includes Alexander Graf and David Seung from the JIC as co-authors. This study defines a precise role for the LIKE SEX FOUR 1 (LSF1) protein that binds starch and is required for normal starch degradation. Through a variety of experiments they show that the glucan binding, rather than phosphatase activity, is required for LSF1 function during starch degradation.


Bhatia R, Dalton S, Roberts LA, Moron-Garcia OM, Iacono R, Kosik O, Gallagher JA, Bosch M (2019) Modified expression of ZmMYB167 in Brachypodium distachyon and Zea mays leads to increased cell wall lignin and phenolic content. Sci Rep. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-45225-9

Open Access

Rakesh Bhatia is the first author on this work from the lab of Maurice Bosch at Aberystwyth University. They overexpress the maize MYB transcription factor ZmMYB167 in both Brachypodium and maize. Both species show increased lignin content with Brachypodium but not maize showing a biomass deficit. This indicates that ZmMYB167 could be a useful molecular tool for the alteration of secondary cell wall biosynthesis.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-45225-9

Li Y, Xu J, Li G, Wan S, Batistic O, Sun M, Zhang Y, Scott R, Qi B (2019) Protein S-acyl Transferase 15 is Involved in Seed Triacylglycerol Catabolism during Early Seedling Growth in Arabidopsis (2019) J Exp Bot. doi: 10.1093/jxb/erz282

First author on this UK-Chinese collaboration is Yaxiao Li who works with Baoxiu Qi at the University of Bath. The authors characterise the function of Arabidopsis Protein Acyl Transferase 15, AtPAT15. This protein is involved in essential β-oxidation of triacylglycerols during post-germination growth.


Ramos-Sánchez JM, Triozzi PM, Alique D, Geng F, Gao M, Jaeger KE, Wigge PA, Allona I, Perales M (2019) LHY2 Integrates Night-Length Information to Determine Timing of Poplar Photoperiodic Growth. Curr Biol. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.06.003

Open Access

This Spanish-led study includes co-authors from the Sainsbury Laboratory in Cambridge and attempts to define the factors that control photoperiod perception in trees, using poplar as a model system. FLOWERING LOCUS T2 (FT2) has been previously shown to be involved in this process and this study builds on that work to show that night-length information is transmitted by the clock gene LATE ELONGATED HYPOCOTYL 2 (LHY2) and is able to control FT2 expression.

https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(19)30696-7?

Silva-Navas J, Conesa CM, Saez A, Navarro-Neila S, Garcia-Mina JM, Zamarreño AM, Baigorri R, Swarup R, Del Pozo JC (2019) Role of cis-zeatin in root responses to phosphate starvation. New Phytol. doi: 10.1111/nph.16020

Ranjan Swarup from the University of Nottingham is a co-author on this Spanish-led study that has Javier Silva-Navas as first author. Through analysis of dark-grown seedlings they have identified a set of new genes involved in root phosphate signaling. In addition they provide evidence of a links between cytokinin and phosphate signaling through modulation of the cell cycle.


Siciliano I, Lentz Grønlund A, Ševčíková H, Spadafora ND, Rafiei G, Francis D, Herbert RJ, Bitonti MB, Rogers HJ, Lipavská H (2019) Expression of Arabidopsis WEE1 in tobacco induces unexpected morphological and developmental changes. Sci Rep. 2019 Jun 18;9(1):8695. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-45015-3

Open Access

Ilario Siciliano leads this work that includes colleagues from Hilary Rogers’ lab at Cardiff University. The WEE1 protein regulates the cell cycle across eukaryote lineages. In this work they show that overexpression of AtWEE1 in tobacco causes precocious flowering and increased shoot morphogenesis of stem explants whilst in cell culture this WEE1 OX causes smaller cell sizes.


Kittipol V, He Z, Wang L, Doheny-Adams T, Langer S, Bancroft I (2019) Genetic architecture of glucosinolate variation in Brassica napus. J Plant Physiol. doi: 10.1016/j.jplph.2019.06.001

Open Access

This study from the Bancroft lab at the University of York is led by Varanya Kittipol. Through use of Associative Transcriptomics (AT) across a diversity panel of 288 Brassica napus genotypes they are able to identify a set of genes involved in synthesis of glucosinate hydrolysis products.


Urquiza-García U, Millar AJ (2019). Expanding the bioluminescent reporter toolkit for plant science with NanoLUC. Plant Methods. doi: 10.1186/s13007-019-0454-4

Open Access

This study from the University of Edinburgh introduces NanoLUC, a new more stable luciferase-based reporter for use by the plant community.

The final two papers are methods papers that focus on different aspects of light-regulated growth. These are from the University of Southampton and University of York.

https://plantmethods.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13007-019-0454-4

Terry MJ, Kacprzak SM (2019) A Simple Method for Quantification of Protochlorophyllide in Etiolated Arabidopsis Seedlings. Methods Mol Biol. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-9612-4_14

Oakenfull RJ, Ronald J, Davis SJ (2019) Measuring Phytochrome-Dependent Light Input to the Plant Circadian Clock. Methods Mol Biol. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-9612-4_15

XV Cell Wall Meeting 2019

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Published on: July 23, 2019

By Christian Donohoe (@donohoho), University of Edinburgh

For my first conference since starting this PhD I attended the triennial XV Cell Wall Meeting, which in its latest iteration was at the University of Cambridge, with Professor Paul Dupree as the chair of the local organising committee. Along with my lab the Edinburgh Cell Wall Group and my supervisor Professor Stephen C. Fry, we came down for the week to present posters on our work and for Stephen to give a talk.

Stephen C. Fry showing Thuryya Al Hinai’s work studying  the enzymes behind fruit ripening

The meeting covers all disciplines related to plant cell wall research so there was a diverse mix of expertise in attendance, ranging from physicists studying secondary cell wall structure in poplar wood using atomic force microscopy, to geneticists over-expressing or supressing genes to uncover the effect of certain enzymes on cell wall structure. Even though I come from a mainly chemistry background this was of no hindrance as the 15-minute talks were all well designed and approachable for anyone with a scientific background.


Posters were hung and left standing all week to allow for casual browsing/lurking during lunches and coffee breaks. This relaxed ambiance carried across into the poster presentations, allowing for easy introductions and bustling halls of conversation throughout each session. I managed to engage with many posters and their presenters, mainly focusing on cell wall structure but the posters themselves were again were well written, so even the mass spec analysis posters that spared no detail were understandable when guided by the author.

Christian proudly presents his poster @donohoho

Throughout the years the meeting has been running there have been certain themes as the field has progressed, and currently it is said to be the ‘practical age’ of plant cell wall research – taking the tools and discoveries from the past 40 years and applying them in fields such as modifying cotton cell walls for physical improvements of the collected fibres, or the genetic optimisation of crop development for biofuel production. A particular highlight was from PhD student James Cowley from the University of Adelaide, looking the utilisation of seed mucilage of the plantago for better gluten-free bread.


Another highlight for me was the focus on personal workplace responsibility, equalities, and ethics that were discussed in busy well-attended sessions. Starting with Dame Professor Athene Donald and keeping pace from there, the talks covered a wide range of important issues that are usually only quietly acknowledged, and it was good to see open challenges to the biases of today people face, with clear instructions for how to help those around you. #just1action4WIS

From a early postgrad perspective, the diversity at the senior levels of research does not reflect the broad range of PhD students currently studying or graduating – by discussing these issues, putting in the time to listen, and vigilant self – criticism we can all work to improve this.

Edinburgh Cell Wall Group
Back: Marie Rapin, Ninni Nuorti, Stephen C. Fry
Front: Christian Donohoe, Thuryya Al Hinai, Lenka Frankova, Rifat Ara Bergum
Photo @donohoho

In all, it was a pleasure and a privilege to attend such a meeting, special thanks to the GARNet travel grant for helping me afford to attend the meeting. For the next meeting I am greatly looking forward to presenting my entire PhD work in 2022, when the meeting will be held in beautiful Malaga, Spain.   

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