Plant Environmental Physiology and Stress Signaling

How can we meet the future challenges of agriculture to face predicted climate change?

Focusing on the study of plant biology, our team seeks to understand the mechanisms that govern the hydric control of plants and the absorption of nutrients.  This helps to develop solutions that will enable them to adapt to environmental stress. Our fundamental research work also provided opportunity to develop solutions to clean up the environment.

Plants are autotrophic organisms making themselves by combining CO2 with inorganic elements retrieved in the atmosphere and in soil. As part of the plant nutrition, mineral nutrients are retrieved in soil through water fluxes into their roots. For their proper growth and development, molecular signalling operating from cellular to whole plant levels coordinate the adequacy of absorption with metabolic demand. In the future, the exploitation of natural resources (such as water or certain minerals) used for agriculture will have to be reduced. This is a challenge because, at the same time, plant production must increase to meet the growing world population and the demands of the biotechnology sector (biofuels and green chemistry). These constraints are all the more severe as the climate changes observed only amplify these challenges.

Optimising plant growth requires the identification and control of molecular signals operating from the cellular level to that of the entire plant in order to coordinate the match between absorption and metabolic demand. The objective of the SAVE team is to understand the mechanisms controlling these water and nutrient (mainly phosphate) fluxes and their signalling. We are thus looking for limiting factors in Pi acquisition (root architecture, pH, exudation of organic acids, transporters, signal transduction). Mineral or water deficiencies reduce plant growth. Our work on Arabidopsis reveals that part of this reduction is not only the result of a decrease in metabolic activity: it is an active adaptive process triggered by plants in response to an adverse environment.

The applications of our research can impact the field of varietal improvements to facilitate drought resistance, improve biomass or minimise the impacts of input reductions. As many metals are naturally associated with phosphates, our research also contributes to the development of lines that increase (phytoextraction) or reduce (safe food) the accumulation of metallic pollutants (arsenate, caesium, cadmium, etc).

Our expertize

The complementarity of our different expertise (genetics, molecular and cellular biology, electrophysiology, physiology etc) is one of the assets of the SAVE team. It allows us to develop multidisciplinary projects with numerous private and academic partners in Europe (England, Spain, Germany, Switzerland), Asia (China, Japan), United States and Australia. In this context, in 2017 we created an international Franco-Chinese laboratory with the team of Professor Liu (Tsinghua University, Beijing).