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Home > Research teams > Génétique et Ecologie Evolutives > Plant Functional and Evolutionary Genomics

Plant Functional and Evolutionary Genomics

Responsable Juergen Kroymann

Plants are encountered by a multitude of enemies in their natural environment. How do they cope with all these pathogens and herbivores? Which genes are important for defense in plants? How do their gene products work mechanistically? What is their potential ecological impact? How did (and how do) they evolve?

Like other complex traits, plant defense against enemies relies on a highly polygenic architecture. By exploiting natural genetic variation within species we can map and clone the underlying genes. With comparative approaches that sample sequence variation patterns within and between species we can infer the evolutionary forces that act and (have acted) on these genes.

For our research we use mainly the model species Arabidopsis thaliana, but we are also interested in its close and distant relatives in the Brassicaceae and the Brassicales.

Our current research projects are:

1. Evolutionary and Functional Genomics of Modified Indole Glucosinolate Biosynthesis

This ANR-funded project is conducted in close collaboration with Bertrand Gakière and his group from the ‘Institut de Biologie des Plantes’ in Orsay, France.

The glucosinolate-myrosinase system is an activated defense system in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and related species from the order Brassicales. This system protects plants effectively from most herbivorous insects and other enemies. It relies on the generation of toxic effector molecules from biologically inactive precursors upon enemy attack. While the basic functional principle of this activated defense is simple, the system itself is nonetheless very complex and displays an enormous amount of structural and regulatory variation within and among species. Previous research has largely focused on methionine-derived glucosinolates, the most abundant and structurally diversified class of glucosinolates in Arabidopsis. The enormous importance of indole glucosinolates for ecological interactions between plants and their natural enemies has been realized only recently. The genetic architecture that controls variation in indole glucosinolate structures is complex, and the first of several QTL was cloned only a short while ago.

In this research project, we intend to dissect the genetic architecture of the biosynthesis of modified indole glucosinolates, understand the mechanistic role of the genes and gene products that are involved, and decode their evolutionary trajectory.

2. Arabidopsis-aphid interactions

This project is led by Marina Pfalz.

Among the large number of insects that feed on plants, aphids interact with their hosts in a rather peculiar form. Instead of removing smaller or larger quantities of plant tissue, they suck almost exclusively on phloem sap. This feeding style causes little direct damage to plant tissue but has concomitantly severe consequences for the plant, including a re-allocation of plant resources, premature leaf senescence, transmission of plant viruses, reduction in plant biomass and, in crop plants, considerable yield loss. Hence, aphid infestation has strong negative impact on host plant fitness.


This research project aims at identifying QTL for resistance against the green peach aphid, Myzus persicae, in Arabidopsis thaliana.

3. Plant-nematode interactions

A PhD student, Maisara Mukhaimar, is working on this project.

4. The Functional and Evolutionary Basis of Diversification in Plant Defense Metabolites

A PhD student, Malika Ouassou, is working on this project.