Project number 27

The molecular and structural basis of a signaling peptide-receptor pair involved in root development in Arabidopsis thaliana

Cell-cell communication is an essential mechanism in all living organisms. In plants, signaling peptides have been shown to regulate most developmental processes through  binding to cognate receptors in the plasma membrane of neighboring cells. In many organisms, it is known that ligand binding results in receptor(s) oligomerization, conformational changes and protein phosphorylation, which eventually activates the signaling pathway. In plants, our knowledge of the early steps following ligand binding to its receptor are still very limited. This project is part of an ongoing collaboration between two groups focusing on plant development and the structural biology of cell-surface receptors, respectively. The thematic interests of the two groups are united by efforts to understand how cell-surface receptors are activated by cognate and non-cognate peptide ligands to mediate intracellular signaling in plant development. Starting with the generation of an appropriate molecular tool box comprising recombinant proteins, the doctoral student will employ biochemical, biophysical, and structural studies to characterize the binding principles underlying complexes between the signaling peptides and cognate (co)receptors under study. Furthermore, in planta work in the context of synthetic peptide treatment, characterization of the root phenotype, complementation of the receptors loss-of-function mutants, as well as receptor phosphorylation assays will serve to validate such insights and will be combined with mutagenesis to interrogate function in vivo. Ultimately, we aspire to integrate such interdisciplinary findings into the appropriate signaling context and regulation mechanisms of root development and branching.

Keywords
signaling pathway, ligand-receptor interactions, structural studies, lateral root organogenesis, plants

Supervisors
Tom Beeckman, VIB Dept. of Plant Systems Biology, UGent, Gent
Savvas Savvides, VIB Inflammation Research Center, UGent, Gent