Plant metabolites not only have very important pharmaceutical activity, but are also involved in crop protection (directly or indirectly) as defense compounds or in the communication with other organisms, which plays an important role in ecology. Soil-borne diseases and other underground stresses are still big threats to our crops and we are just beginning to understand the belowground (rhizosphere) biology and the role of chemical interactions seems much more complicated and important than anticipated. My research interest is to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the belowground Interkingdom chemical Interactions and the effects on this of (1) evolution, (2) nutrient availability, and (3) biotic stress, and translate this knowledge into applications of biotechnological, medical and environmental interest.
I study the contribution of microevolution (domestication/genetic variation) and macroevolution (across species/families) in the chemical interactions between plants and other organisms.
Using wild and domesticated cucurbits and genetic variation I look for the effect of artificial and natural selection on root microbiome recruitment under phosphate stress. In addition, I study the macroevolutionary mechanisms driving signaling molecule production and perception. Using comparative transcriptome, metabolome, metagenome and metatranscriptome and molecular biology approaches across families/species, I want to explore widely-conserved and family-specific signaling molecules/microbes in plant-microbe interactions that protect plants against harmful and attract beneficial organisms (Figure 1). To achieve this, I am working with PhD student Sébastien Jaupitre and bioinformatician Fred White in MiCROP to study the signaling molecule biosynthesis and perception under phosphate starvation across 5 plant families.
2. Nutrient availability and biotic stress
a) In MiCROP I will work with PhD student Sebastien to find new signaling molecules and unravel their production, transportation and perception that influence beneficial microbes under phosphate starvation. In addition, we also would like to understand how aboveground herbivore attack influences belowground gene expression, metabolite exudation and microbiome recruitment.
b) In collaboration with Prof. Harro Bouwmeester, I am co-supervising two PhD students (Changsheng Li & Yanting Wang) funded by Chinese Scholarship Council. We study how phosphate starvation influences plant metabolism, and what the role of strigolactones is in these changes. We aim to fully elucidate strigolactone biosynthesis pathways in diverse plant species and explore their functional plasticity.
c) In my Marie Curie project and a ‘Holland Innovative Potato’ project, with two PhD students Alessandra Guerrieri and Davar Abedini, and in collaboration with Aska Goverse and Andre Bertran of the WUR Laboratory of Nematology, we study plant-nematode interaction through plant signaling molecules and the influence of nitrogen and microbes on this (Figure 2).
We will soon open a postdoc position on Microp, please stay tuned.
BSc and MSc projects
We have opportunities for BSc and MSc projects on our research topics. Please ask for more information (firstname.lastname@example.org).
PhD and visiting scholarships
We support talented MSc students to apply for PhD scholarships such as from China Scholarship Council (CSC), EPS Graduate Programme (https://www.graduateschool-eps.info/graduate-programme/) and other scholarships.
We also welcome visiting scholars or exchange students; please don’t hesitate to contact me (email@example.com) for further information.
If you are interested in one of the topics in the Metabolism LAB and would like to apply for your own postdoc fellowship (e.g. Marie Curie, EMBO, HFSP, FEBS or NWO VENI etc.), it would be my pleasure to host you and discuss these interesting topics with you. Please email me via firstname.lastname@example.org.