We love Arabidopsis and use this plant intensively. Nevertheless we also believe that through diversity we can learn and achieve more. To start with non-plant-based diversity, before talking about plant diversity, who are we and what do we do?
The team through the past three years ’till now:
We are 10 nationalities. Although many are from Europe, some of us are from other continents. 45% of us are Dutch. We are 70% female / 30% male. We’re on the diversity committee of our Science Faculty and take part in some of their events.
We have a representative for appreciating any style of music you can imagine. We include carnivores, pescatarians, vegetarians, vegans; as a group we can feed on pretty much everything that nature and industry provide. So… all in all, we are probably just another batch of normal people doing exciting science (we like to think…).
Do we benefit from our diversity? Oh yes! Having such different backgrounds, both culturally and training-wise, and having such varied interests, we not only learn a lot from each other, but approach our scientific questions in highly diverse ways. But perhaps most important of all, it’s simple a lot of fun and very rewarding to be in a team that challenges ones assumptions and with people who bring ideas to the table that never crossed ones mind before. Both personally and scientifically.
Let’s get on with the Science then. As mentioned above, much of what we do couldn’t be done in a species other than Arabidopsis thaliana. The tools, knowledge and ease of growing/experimenting are just very hard to beat.
But being an annual rosette plant that finishes its life cycle in under 2 months, there are many aspects of plant life that cannot be studied in Arabidopsis. For this reason, and in an attempt to use our knowledge to help improve food crops, we are also using other study systems.
Tomato is a great plant species to work with: it produces really great food, is easy to grow, has quite a number of molecular tools available and still growing, and has great light responses, including internode elongation that vegetative Arabidopsis does not have. We study how different light qualities, especially Red:Far-red light ratio’s, modulate plant resistance against pathogenic fungi. Kaisa Kajala and her team also study cell-type specific regulation of exodermis development in tomato roots, which makes them more tolerant to for example drought and salt stress.
Rice needs no explanation: it feeds an incredibly large number of people and has tons of genetic and molecular tools and information available. Rice, for us in cold and cloudy Netherlands, is not easy to grow at all, but we fixed it. We purchased some serious-power horticulture LEDs, generating up to 500 micromoles / m2 /sec light, heat our greenhouse compartment to a comfortable 28 degrees C and now see what we get (picture below): fantastic rice plants. We are studying how to achieve rice architectures that are optimal for weed suppression by shading them out.
Geranium species (G. pyrenaicum and G. robertianum) are very pretty and easy to grow. However, they have zero genetic or molecular tools available and are not eaten. But what’s really cool about these two species is that they express very different light responses: G. robertianum grows, amongst others, in forest understories and has evolved to prevent shade avoidance responses even when it is exposed to strong shade signals, such as in forests. We are investigating how its light sensing and signal transduction are rewired compared to shade avoiding plants.
Maize would probably be the largest species we work with. We are performing greenhouse experiments to study the impact of early shade avoidance on whole-plant growth in stands such as they would occur in real-world conditions.