Scientific Projects

Experience of transient environmental stress can prepare (“prime”) the phenotype of an organism for improved responses to impending stress. Successful priming of a stress response by a past environmental cue requires memory of the past experience. While ample knowledge is available on memory processes in animals, we need a deeper understanding of how organisms lacking a nervous system store an environmental experience, how they retrieve the memory and how it affects the response to impending stress. In addition to these mechanistic “how”-questions, scarce knowledge is available on the ecological traits that determine the benefit of remembering a past stress. The Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) 973 focuses on studies of (1) the mechanisms of priming and memory of stress responses in organisms without nervous systems and (2) the ecological conditions favouring priming and memory. The CRC 973 projects investigate priming and memory of stress responses especially in plants, but also in bacteria and fungi. Hence, organisms with different life strategies are studied, i.e. r-selected species with a high reproduction rate and short life time, and K-selected ones with a lower reproduction rate and longer life time. The stressors applied include abiotic (cold, heat, light) and biotic (antimicrobial peptides, phytopathogens, herbivorous insects) stimuli, thus allowing for comparative analysis of priming processes with regard to the type of stressor.

In phase II, CRC 973 intends to further pursue its strategic aim, namely to more tightly link research in molecular biology and biochemistry with ecology. Reaching this aim will be supported by a CRC-implemented programme for PhD students; this Integrated Research Training Group (IRTG) programme offers teaching in the various biological disciplines covered by CRC 973, ranging from molecular biology and biochemistry to ecology.

CRC 973 will place special research emphasis on the temporal and spatial aspects of the priming process. We intend to investigate (i) which factors determine the temporal course of priming and the persistence of memory and which ones regulate “forgetting” of information, i.e. resetting the primed state to the non-primed one, and (ii) how priming information is spatially transmitted within a plant from seeds, meristems or fully developed tissue to later developing tissue. The latter question will be addressed by analysing epigenetic information transfer via mitosis and the functional relevance of transcription factors and phytohormones. Furthermore, we will study – in addition to the role of the organism´s life strategy – some further ecological factors that may shape priming and memory processes, i.e. the impact of the age of the primed target organism and the role of the presence of competitors and predatory species. Field studies will investigate the ecological relevance of priming under natural conditions. In addition, a project working with bacteria will investigate the evolution of phenotypic primability for improved stress resistance.

Project area A: Priming and Memory: Temperature Stress

A1

Priming in fungi – towards understanding priming at the level of the community

Prof. Dr. Matthias C. Rillig & Jun. Prof. Dr. Britta Tietjen

A2

Priming the chromatin in response to heat stress in Arabidopsis thaliana

Prof. Dr. Isabel Bäurle

A3

Low temperature priming and memory in Arabidopsis thaliana

PD Dr. Dirk Hincha

A4

CDPKs in priming in response to low temperature in Arabidopsis thaliana

Prof. Dr. Tina Romeis

A5

The control of plant growth by thermopriming

Prof. Dr. Bernd Müller-Röber

A6

The role of heat shock proteins and autophagy for thermomemory

Dr. Salma Balazadeh

Project area B: Priming and Memory: Stress by Herbivory

B1

Priming of elm defence against herbivores

Prof. Dr. Monika Hilker

B2

Plant priming of anti-herbivore defences by insect oviposition

Jun. Prof. Dr. Anke Steppuhn

B3*

Priming of plant defence by below- and aboveground herbivores

Jun. Prof. Dr. Susanne Wurst

B4

Priming of defence against herbivores feeding upon Arabidopsis thaliana

Prof. Dr. Monika Hilker & Prof. Dr. Reinhard Kunze

B5

Priming of plant defence against pathogens and herbivores by DNA damage signalling

Dr. Lennart Wirthmüller

Project area C: Priming and Memory: Various Stressors

C1

Priming of environmental responses in Arabidopsis thaliana by cytokinin

Prof. Dr. Thomas Schmülling

C2

Priming in biotic stress responses mediated by CDPK signalling

Prof. Dr. Tina Romeis

C3*

Impact of root- and leaf-associated bacteria on metabolic priming of Arabidopsis for subsequent bacteria colonisation

Dr. habil. Joachim Kopka

C4

The chloroplast antioxidant system as a priming hub in plant stress management

Prof. Dr. Margarete Baier

C5

Bacterial priming against antimicrobials and the evolution of ‘primability’

Prof. Dr. Jens Rolff

C6

Proteasomal protein turnover during immune priming in Arabidopsis

Prof. Dr. Frederik Börnke

C7

Mechanisms of long-term, epigenetic stress memory in annual and perennial Brassicaceae species

Prof. Dr. Daniel Schubert

C8

Priming and memory of Staphylococcus aureus in response to oxidative and electrophile stress

Prof. Dr. Haike Antelmann

Project Z:

INF

The database ‘PrimeDB’: A storage, search and analysis platform for experimental data on priming and memory of organismic responses to stress

PD Dr. habil. Dirk Walther

IRTG

Biocommunication: Mechanisms and consequences of information storage and retrieval in plants and microbes

Prof. Dr. Tina Romeis &
Prof. Dr. Matthias Rillig

Z

Central management tasks and administration

Prof. Dr. Monika Hilker

* projects are completed within phase I