Plant Sciences

Plant research at the Vienna BioCenter aims to discover molecular and genetic mechanisms that control the diverse activities within plants. The evolution of plants transformed the Earth system and they have been harnessed throughout human history to support growing societies.  In the future, fundamental knowledge of how plants function has the potential to contribute to the solutions we need in the face of potentially catastrophic climate change.

Almost all life on Earth is powered by photosynthesis, which transforms the radiative energy of the sun into energy-rich compounds used by living organisms to grow and reproduce.  Photosynthesis evolved in bacteria more than two billion years ago and entered the eukaryotic lineage through symbiosis.  Plants are direct descendants of this symbiotic event. 

DNA links the first photosynthetic eukaryotic cells to extant plants.  This heritable molecule carries the information necessary for growth and reproduction.  It also encodes the genetic variation that accounts not only for the enormous morphological, cellular, and biochemical diversity that evolved among different plant lineages, but also the variation that underpins adaptive traits within species.  Research at the VBC exploits a diversity of model systems – from unicellular algae to complex land plants –to identify the genetic basis of this diversity. 

Specific research programs are discovering the mechanisms that control the expression of genomes and how these have evolved since the different plant lineages diverged from a last common ancestor.  These “deep time” investigations are matched by programs discovering how differences in the expression of the genomes have contributed to microevolutionary processes within the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana

RNA plays a central role in the modulation of genome expression and the organization of DNA into domains of expression (euchromatin) or transcriptional repression (heterochromatin).  Small non-coding RNAs are involved in protecting the host genome from transposons, viral-like sequences that spread through genomes.  By investigating the role of small non-coding RNAs in the regulation of genome expression in diverse plant lineages, researchers can discover the diversity of mechanisms that operate throughout the plant lineage and use comparative methods to determine how these mechanisms evolved.

The symbiotic event that introduced photosynthesis into the plant lineage was accompanied by the evolution of new regulatory mechanisms that coordinated the activities in the plastid – where light energy is absorbed and transformed into chemical energy – and the nucleus of the symbiotic host. Research aims to discover the molecular mechanisms that coordinate the activity of these organelles.  The survival of plants in response to attack by other organisms or stress caused by changes in the environment requires dynamics responses and reorganization of cellular activities.  The controlled destruction of proteins and organelles is central to these responses and research at the center is discovering the mechanisms that effect these changes in plants.

Our discoveries will reveal secrets of plant life and how evolution led to the diversity of photosynthetic organisms on Earth. This knowledge will be used to preserve ecosystems and reduce humanity’s drawdown of non-renewable natural resources, to enable sustainable production from land and oceans. 

Research Groups 'Plant Sciences'

Research Group Institute Topic
Belkhadir GMI Plant cell signalling at the interface of growth and defences
Berger GMI Chromatin Architecture and Function
Dagdas GMI Autophagy-mediated cellular quality control mechanisms in plants
Dolan GMI Development and Evolution of Land Plants
Mari-Ordonez GMI Mechanisms of recognition and silencing of transposons in plants
Mittelsten Scheid GMI Epigenetic Changes in Plants
Nordborg GMI Population Genetics
Ramundo GMI Chloroplast biogenesis and protein quality control
Swarts GMI Tree-ring genomics
Weckwerth Uni Vienna - Faculty of Life Sciences Systems Theory in Ecology and Biology
Wienkoop Uni Vienna - Faculty of Life Sciences Plant-Microsymbiont Interaction