Plants are sessile and must therefore adjust their development to adapt to their environment. Plants are highly sensitive to a number of environmental cues, including light quality, temperature and photoperiod. These signals are integrated into the plant’s developmental program. The mechanisms for this are both fundamentally fascinating as well as having enormous potential application for the breeding of climate-stress resilient plants.


My group is interested in how plants control their development in response to a changing environment. Sensing, integrating and remembering environmental information allows plants to make key life-cycle decisions at the right time to optimize their fitness. These questions are of interest from both a fundamental scientific perspective as well as having potential application for breeding stress-resilient crops.

We are studying these processes in two systems: Arabidopsis thaliana, which offers unparalleled genetic and epigenetic resources and the small grass Brachypodiumdistachyon, which is closely related to monocot crop plants such as wheat, barley and rye.  Brachypodium distachyon is an ideal model species, with a small sequenced genome to study plant genome by environment interactions, since it has excellent genetics and can be easily transformed to generate transgenic lines.

We are particularly interested in how plants utilize their developmental plasticity to adapt to their environment. As a model system, we aim to understand how day length influences time to flower, how this environmental signal is sensed, and how this information is integrated direct development. To break down these questions, we are focusing on three research strands:

How conserved is the floral induction pathway?

The induction of flowering is a key developmental decision. Plants integrate multiple environmental cues including temperature, photoperiod and light quality, to flower in the correct season. Previously we and others have shown that a mobile peptide is generated in the leaves of the Arabidopsis thaliana in response to long day length and that this florigenic signal moves from the leaves to the apex, triggering the formation of flowers. To understand the regulatory logic underpinning the floral transition we have adopted a mathematical modelling approach with the group of Richard Morris at the JIC

To understand the extent to which this system is conserved between the dicotyledonous model plant A.thaliana and the monocots, we are investigating flowering inBrachypodium distachyon. We are adopting a molecular genetic approach in this species and this will enable us to extend our computational model to Brachypodium.  Furthermore we want to elaborate the model to integrate diverse environmental conditions and predict the phenotype of a given genotype in a given environment.

How do plants remember temperature stress?

A fundamental question in biology is to understand how the information encoded within a genome interacts with the environment to determine the final developmental outcome. We are only beginning to understand how a given genotype translates into a phenotype and how the environment influences this. Plants develop continuously throughout their lifecycle, and are therefore ideally suited to study this question. Plants need to be able to respond and adapt to recurring biotic and abiotic stresses, as they cannot move away from them. We are currently performing a forward genetic screen to identify important players in this process.

How are growth and development coordinated with environmental signals?

The remarkable flexibility of plant development suggests the presence of pathways and mechanisms to adjust growth and developmental responses to the environment. It is likely that these pathways include post-transcriptional mechanisms. We are using forward genetics and targeted approaches to investigate potential mechanisms.

heat map RNAseq

© Dr Katja Jaeger 2015