Program 2: Molecular & Cellular Mechanisms

Exploring how molecules in the plant cell wall interact with each other, within and between cell walls.

The structure of a molecule within the plant cell wall determines how it interacts with other cell wall components. Due to the complex nature of plant cell walls, we are experimenting with simpler in vitro systems such as Acetobacter, which make bacterial cellulose. Physical and chemical properties of this polysaccharide can be tested directly or combination with other cell wall components. In collaboration with IBM, we are also developing a computational model of the cell wall that will allow in silico prediction of molecular interactions.

The composition of plant cell walls also plays an important role in the ability of a plant to defend itself against external stresses, such as pathogens and wounding. The defence provided by the cell wall is primarily in the form of a physical barrier. However, molecules released from plant cell walls can trigger defence responses against diverse pathogens, many of which are of significant commercial importance. With a principal focus on grass species, we are characterising the properties of the cell wall that are important for a successful defence response.    

Changes in cell wall composition also occur during plant growth and development, depending on the phase of the life cycle. Alterations in cell wall composition, through changes in the expression of cell wall biosynthetic or hydrolytic enzymes, can lead to dramatic developmental defects, such as inhibition of root and shoot growth and seed abortion. We are characterising the role of different cell wall components in cereal growth by addressing the function of some of the approximately 500 genes involved in cell wall biosynthesis and hydrolysis.