Research Group: Exploring P-type Pumps and Novel Crops

Global food security is facing unprecedented challenges as climate change threatens to drastically reduce plant productivity. In addition to affecting soil water content and salinity, climate change is influencing the distribution and incidence of plant pests. There is thus an urgent need to develop cultivars with increased tolerance to both biotic and abiotic stresses. Nine plant species provide most of humankind’s caloric intake, but, as a result of domestication and inbreeding, these plants have lost many traits required to withstand harsh environments and attacks by pests.

By comparison, there are about 380,000 wild plant species, many of which tolerate even the most challenging conditions. Nature therefore offers us tremendous genetic variation that could hold the key to ensuring food security. Instead of investigating how to make our current crops more robust, our research addresses how to transform underutilized plants that are already resilient into new crops. Our focus is on the perennial grass intermediate wheatgrass, an emerging grain crop; barley, a model grain crop; and the drought and salt stress-resilient plant quinoa

In another line of research, we study the structure, function and regulation of pumps that mediate primary active transport across membranes, particularly P-type ATPase pumps, which form a large superfamily in all forms of life. P-type ATPases pump cations (like essential metals, calcium and protons) and phospholipids across membranes. Well-characterized members are essential for many basic functions in cells and we aim to assign physiological functions to less-characterized pumps. All members of this family form a phosphorylated reaction cycle intermediate, hence the name P-type, and their diversity raises questions, such as how electrogenic pumps evolved, that we are trying to answer. We are also investigating the pumping mechanism and regulation of these biological nanomachines. Answering these questions will help us understand how primary active transport processes control nutrient uptake and allocation in plants.

 

 

 

  • Intermediate wheatgrass: A future grain crop

    Annual grain crops currently provide approximately 70 percent of human calorie requirements, and occupy 70 percent of cropland worldwide. Annual crops must be sown every year, which disturbs the soil and exposes it to erosion through tillage or clearing of vegetation with herbicides. In addition, young seedlings with shallow root systems are inefficient at taking up water and nutrients, which is a major cause of ground and surface water pollution by nitrate leaching. A perennial grain crop that does not need to be sown every year would develop a deep and long-lived root system that sequesters carbon and takes up nutrients and water more efficiently. Such a crop would be tolerant to a wide array of stresses. We aim to accelerate domestication of the perennial grass wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium), a close relative of annual wheat. As T. intermedium lacks key domestication traits, the genes responsible for several traits must be modified before T. intermedium grains can be produced at large scale. These genes include those that control grain size and number, plant height, free threshing and rachis development. To accelerate the domestication process, from thousands of years (as it took for wheat) to hopefully less than a decade, we are inducing mutations in genes related to key domestication genes in wheat, barley and rice.

    Contact :
    Guangbin Luo g.luo@plen.ku.dk
    Pedro Miguel Pereira Correia pc@plen.ku.dk

    Javad Najafi jn@plen.ku.dk

    Margrethe Kristine Dam Falkenberg margrethe.falkenberg@snm.ku.dk
  • Improving barley by promoting P-type ATPase activity

    P-type ATPases are membrane pumps that are of crucial importance for life in all kingdoms. In plants, they regulate nutrient uptake, signal transduction, reproduction and growth through pumping ions and lipids across biological membranes. P-type ATPase activity and thus also plant growth are controlled by multiple external factors. We aim to identify and characterize P-type ATPases in barley (especially members of the P1B and P3 ATPase subfamilies) and design and examine plants carrying gain-of-function mutations in these pumps. Our LESSISMORE project partner—Carlsberg Research Laboratory—has established a high-throughput technique to screen for specific genetic variation in libraries of hundreds of thousands barley plants. We have designed and generated gain-of-function mutants expressing constitutively active P-type ATPase pumps. We are investigating how such modifications influence yield and stress tolerance.

    Contact:
    Anett Stéger anett@plen.ku.dk
    Anton Frisgaard Nørrevang afn@plen.ku.dk

  • Understanding the extreme hardiness of the super crop quinoa

    We aim to decipher the molecular mechanisms of water stress tolerance in plants and generate a knowledge base and methods platforms for future breeding of drought-tolerant crops. Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa), a pseudocereal crop that is tolerant to multiple water-related stresses, will be the focus of this project. This plant can grow on marginal soils under extreme salt and water stress and the seed has exceptional nutritional qualities. Although quinoa has yet to reach its potential as a fully domesticated crop, breeding efforts to improve the plant have been limited. Molecular and genetic techniques combined with traditional breeding are likely to change this picture. We have analyzed protein-coding sequences in the quinoa genome that are orthologous to domestication genes in established crops. Altering by targeted mutagenesis only a limited number of such genes that control e.g. grain size and nutritional quality may be a promising route for accelerating the improvement of quinoa and generating a nutritious high-yielding crop that can meet the future demand for food production in a changing climate.

    Contact:

    Luu Trinh mdlt@plen.ku.dk
    Anton Frisgaard Nørrevang afn@plen.ku.dk
    Max William Moog mwm@plen.ku.dk

     Amalie Kofoed Bendtsen amalie-kb@plen.ku.dk

     Anett Stéger anett@plen.ku.dk

  • Why do plants lack sodium pumps and would they benefit from having one?

    In this project, we explore the feasibility of creating a new generation of salt-tolerant plants that express animal-type Na+/K+-ATPasesthat extrude Na+ and import K+. Attempts to generate salt-tolerant plants have so far focused on increasing the expression of salt stress-related genes or introducing these genes from other plants, bryophytes or yeast. Even though these approaches have resulted in plants with increased salt tolerance, plant growth is decreased under salt stress and often also under normal growth conditions. New strategies to increase salt tolerance are therefore needed. Theoretically, plants transformed with an animal-type Na+/K+-ATPase should extrude Na+ efficiently and have an improved Na+/K+-ratio. This may lead to a high degree of tolerance when salt is high and less side-effects when it is low.

    Contact:
    Cuiwei Wang c.wang@plen.ku.dk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group members

Name Title Phone E-mail
Amalie Kofoed Bendtsen PhD Fellow +4535336975 E-mail
Anett Stéger PhD Fellow +4535333518 E-mail
Anton Frisgaard Nørrevang PhD Fellow +4528907574 E-mail
Cuiwei Wang Postdoc +4535334911 E-mail
Guangbin Luo Postdoc +4535332099 E-mail
Javad Najafi Postdoc +4535330042 E-mail
Mai Duy Luu Trinh Postdoc +4535332362 E-mail
Max William Moog PhD Fellow +4535326667 E-mail
Michael Broberg Palmgren Professor +4535332592 E-mail
Pedro Miguel Pereira Correia Postdoc   E-mail
Xu Zhai Special Consultant +4535324143 E-mail

Master students

Contact research group leader

Michael Palmgren
Professor
M: palmgren@plen.ku.dk
Ph: +45 35 33 25 92