Linking Molecular Biology and Ecology - Molecular Biology

How succession shapes adaptation of natural populations of Arabidopsis thaliana

In spite of recent advances in molecular biology and ecology, we still do not understand mechanistically how plant life history strategies are shaped by environmental factors. We want to figure out how plant-soil interactions influence adaptation of these strategies. Our aim is to unravel how soil development during secondary succession influences the selection of plant life history strategies. We are studying natural populations of Arabidopsis thaliana and how they are influenced by successional changes in biotic-abiotic soil conditions in a well-described time series of abandoned ex-arable fields. During secondary succession, the plant community shifts from pioneer to later succession species under influence of changes in both the abiotic and biotic composition of the soil. We have the hypothesis that belowground changes contribute to adaptation of plant roots to their specific soils, as roots are the interface of the plant and the soil. In this research, we are integrating soil ecology and molecular plant biology studying genomes, expression patterns, plant-soil feedback effects and root architecture. These findings will provide fundamental knowledge on root traits of crops adapted to sustainable soil management in agriculture.

  1. Studying the effect of soil succession on natural Arabidopsis populations
  2. Coupling genetic variation to soil succession to identify micro-evolution
  3. Investigating the role of root architecture in soil succession

This project is a collaboration between Molecular Biology (Wageningen University) and the Department of Terrestrial Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) under the guidance of:

  • Dr. Viola Willemsen (Molecular Biology - Wageningen University)
  • Prof. dr. ir. Wim van der Putten (Terrestrial Ecology - NIOO-KNAW)
  • Prof. dr. ir. Ben Scheres (Molecular Biology - Wageningen University)

Main techniques:

  • Standard molecular biological tools such as DNA isolation, PCR and sequencing
  • CRISPR/Cas9 mutagenesis and Golden Gate modular cloning
  • Arabidopsis transformation, genotyping and phenotyping
  • Confocal Laser Scanning Microscopy (CLSM)
  • Analysing root systems using the rhizotron system
  • Field work collecting natural Arabidopsis populations and succession soil
  • Large-scale plant-soil feedback experiments
  • Bioinformatics concerning Arabidopsis WGS and RNAseq as well as microbiome sequencing

For more information you can check https://nioo.knaw.nl/nl/employees/vera-hesen or send an e-mail to Vera Hesen.