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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Research project: Plastid-to-nucleus signalling in plants

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Successful chloroplast development requires the co-ordination of gene expression from both the nuclear and chloroplast (plastid) genomes.

Chloroplast development is controlled by the nucleus via anterograde signalling pathways (see project on light regulation of chloroplast development), but there are also retrograde signals sent from the chloroplast to the nucleus indicating its current developmental status. We have been studying these signals by using chloroplast function inhibitors such as Norflurazon and also a light treatment regime leading to singlet oxygen production. Under these conditions the nucleus receives a signal that represses expression of many nuclear genes including those for chloroplast development and function. We are looking to determine the nature of these signalling pathways using a number of approaches including comparative transcriptome analysis of genes regulated by these contrasting treatments and the identification of mutants in which signalling is altered.

As well as being important for chloroplast development, the tetrapyrrole pathway (including chlorophyll synthesis) has been strongly implicated in having a role in plastid-to-nucleus signalling and the regulation of this pathway has been a longstanding interest of the group in collaboration with Professor Alison Smith (University of Cambridge). We have published a number of papers together on the regulation of the tetrapyrrole pathway and its role in plastid-to-nucleus signalling including a major paper (Moulin et al, 2008) demonstrating that the tetrapyrrole intermediate Mg-protoporphyrin is not a mobile plastid-to-nucleus signal in Arabidopsis. This paper was awarded the Rebeiz Foundation prize for best chloroplast biology paper in 2008. A more recent study has shown that tetrapyrrole-dependent singlet oxygen production leads to an inhibition of nuclear gene expression for photosynthetic genes and especially tetrapyrrole biosynthesis genes (Page et al 2017). This pathway is separate from that affected by Norflurazon, which is proposed to be heme-dependent and important in chloroplast biogenesis.

Funding: BBSRC grant “A new model for chloroplast-to-nucleus communication during seedling development” 2013-2016
Gatsby Charitable Foundation Ph.D. studentship “The role of plastid-to-nucleus signalling in responding to abiotic stress” 2013-2017

Other research groups

Institute of Life Sciences

Related research groups

Environmental Biosciences
Molecular and Cellular Biosciences

Key Publications

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