Funding award to study how plants react to temperature

Published on 5 October 2023

Dr Martin Balcerowicz has been awarded ~£540k to study the molecular mechanisms by which plants react to their temperature environment.

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(from left to right): Aminin Taqrir Akramin (PhD student), Jennie Yang (Honours student), Martin Balcerowicz, Emma Hardy (PhD student), Jennifer Anderson (Honours student).

Rising temperatures represent a major threat to food security, with each 1°C increase reducing yield of the two UK staple crops wheat and barley by 5-6%. A detailed understanding of the mechanisms by which plants sense and respond to temperature is therefore vital to develop strategies to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change on crop yield. 

The funding from BBSRC’s New Investigator scheme will allow Martin and his team in the Division of Plant Sciences, School of Life Sciences based at the James Hutton Institute, to study the impacts of temperature in detail. 

Martin explains, “This project investigates how translation – the process by which proteins are made in cells – is regulated in a temperature-dependent manner and how this helps tailor a plant’s growth to its surroundings. 

“Messenger RNAs (mRNAs) provide essential instructions for the translation process. These molecules harbour a coding sequence that functions as “blueprint” for the assembly of a protein, but also contain regulatory sequences alongside this blueprint. Upstream open reading frames (uORFs) are such a regulatory feature and determine how efficiently the translation process is initiated. 

“In the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, we find that some uORFs are recognised only at high temperature, but whether this is functionally relevant is so far unknown. With this BBSRC-funded project we aim to uncover roles for temperature-sensitive uORFs in plant growth regulation and to gain comprehensive insight into how translation initiation is affected by ambient temperature.

“This will provide us with a systems level understanding of how the control of translation helps to shape plant growth in a temperature-dependent manner and will allow us to better predict how plants will cope with challenging temperatures they are likely to encounter in the future.”

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