Investigation into cell size attracts major funding

An ambitious scientific investigation probing the mysteries of cell size has been awarded five-year funding.

Led by the group of Professor Robert Sablowski at the John Innes Centre, the £2.1m project will take forward exciting recent discoveries in this area of fundamental biology.

Regulation of plant cell size coupled to DNA content (ReSizeD) will attempt to address broader implications of these discoveries.

Funding for the innovative project has been made by the UKRI Horizon Europe guarantee scheme. This funds UK researchers who have applied successfully for Horizon Europe grants, in this case a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant, but are unable to sign a grant agreement with the EU prior to formal association of the UK to the programme.

Professor Sablowski, group leader at the John Innes Centre said, “I am delighted to receive this prestigious funding, which will enable us to take forward this exciting area of work. We hope this will not only reveal fundamental mechanisms in cell biology but will also enable us to explore the role of cell size in areas of plant development and physiology that are important to produce more resilient crops in the context of climate change. ”.

From bacteria to humans, cell size is important for many processes including exchange of nutrients and signals, cell division, cell longevity and the function of specialised cells. Last year, in a ground-breaking study which appeared in the journal Science, the Sablowski group shed new light on the longstanding biological question of how cells regulate their own size. Observing the growing tip of plants, the researchers showed that cells use their DNA as an internal gauge. This study also revealed the central role of a protein called KRP4 in the mechanism.

This intriguing research posed new questions on how cell size is controlled at a molecular level, its physiological consequences, and its links to genome evolution, which can now be investigated at greater depth.

The research will use the plant species Arabidopsis thaliana as a model system, employing a combination of genetics, quantitative live imaging, proteomics and population genetics (this latter element in collaboration with Professor Kirsten Bomblies at Institute of Molecular Plant Biology, Zurich, and formerly of the John Innes Centre). The aims of the next phase of this project include:

  • Identifying protein-chromatin interactions at the core of the cell size control mechanism;
  • Revealing how cell size control is linked to cell fate decisions;
  • Testing whether the mechanism explains why cell size correlates with genome size;
  • Investigating whether cell size control has been re-calibrated during the evolution of polyploid plants (plants with duplicated genomes).

Professor Graham Moore, Director of the John Innes Centre said: “I’m delighted that the exciting research of the Sablowski group has been recognised with this funding award. I look forward to seeing further discoveries in fundamental cell biology with the potential to bring social and climate related benefits.”

There are  positions available to work on ReSizeD – Apply now:

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