SLU news

Large Wallenberg grant to Claudia Köhler for research on communication signals in plants

Published: 01 October 2019

Professor Claudia Köhler of SLU has been awarded SEK 28 million by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation for research on small RNA molecules (sRNA). In plants, mobile sRNAs serve as signalling molecules that influence development and reproduction, and also interactions with pathogens. The details are however poorly understood, which is to be remedied by the project.

The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation has awarded a total of SEK 640 million to 20 research projects in the fields of medicine, science and technology that are considered to offer potential for future scientific breakthroughs.

One of the awarded projects has the title Function of small RNAs as intra and inter-organismal communication signal and is awarded SEK 28 million for five years. The principal investigator is Claudia Köhler, Professor of Molecular Cell Biology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). Co-researchers are Christina Dixelius, Anders Hafrén, German Martinez och Stefanie Rosa, also from SLU.

Signaling by small RNAs (sRNAs) is a conserved strategy for cell-cell communication employed by bacteria, animals and plants. In plants, mobile sRNAs serve as signaling molecules that influence development, the arms race between plants and pathogens, and potentially transgenerational genome stability. However, the overall relevance and molecular pathways mediating sRNA transport remain poorly understood.

The investigation of sRNA transport is especially challenging due to the lack of labeling methods allowing tracking of the cellular origin and localization of specific sRNAs, as well as an absence of reliable cell-specific extraction methods that enable exhaustive characterization of sRNA populations. This project will overcome these limitations by developing novel techniques for monitoring and isolating cell-type-specific sRNA populations.

The main aims are to:

  • Uncover the genetic and mechanistic basis of sRNA transport
  • Identify populations of mobile sRNAs in somatic, reproductive and infected cells
  • Elucidate the spatio-temporal aspect of sRNA mobility
  • Explore biotechnological applications of mobile sRNAs.

To achieve these aims, the researchers will establish complementary experimental systems that together will allow monitoring of sRNA dynamics in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and in the crop plant potato, during development and pathogen infection.

"We anticipate that by bringing together scientists with expertise in different aspects of RNA biology, who share the common goal of understanding the mechanism and role of sRNA transport in plants, this project will generate new insights into sRNA mobility and transport, as well as the conservation of these mechanisms in other organisms", says Claudia Köhler.

Furthermore, the researchers foresee that the results gained in this project can be utilized for biotechnological applications, by enabling the production of immunized seeds that are resistant to infection by diverse pathogens.

Read more

Link to press release from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation

Claudia Köhler's laboratory