Research at Molecular Plant Biology

Research at the Department of Life Technologies Molecular Plant Biology unit is focused on understanding the structure, function and regulation of photosynthesis in plants, algae and cyanobacteria. We study cellular components and energy transfer pathways in different photosynthetic systems to identify the roles of photosynthesis in cell metabolism and signaling, development and stress responses, also upon changes in ambient environment. Applied aspects of photosynthesis research include modification of photosynthesis for bioenergy production, waste water treatment and use of photosynthetic organisms as cell factories for the production of valuable compounds.

Focal areas of research

Regulation of Photosynthesis

The research is strongly focused on the identification and characterization of cellular components and regulatory pathways which enable acclimation of photosynthetic machinery according to environmental cues, such as changes in light quantity, quality and rhythm as well as temperature or nutrient availability. The regulation occurs at multiple levels, including transcription, translation and accumulation of proteins, required for balanced absorption and distribution of light energy and electron and proton transfer.  We also aim at understanding how the different regulatory mechanisms interact, and what is the role of photosynthetic machinery in the regulatory network of a cell, taking evolutionary differences of the species in consideration.

Signaling, development and stress responses

We study light-dependent regulatory networks that control stress resistance and growth in photosynthetic organisms. During evolution, photosynthetic organisms evolved sophisticated molecular mechanisms in order to sense, signal and respond to external cues in order to cope with relentless biotic and abiotic challenges. We are especially interested in the central role of chloroplasts and photosynthetic light reactions as environmental sensors that trigger reprogramming of nuclear gene expression, in order to initiate acclimation and maintain fitness in the changing environment. Systems-level understanding of these concepts provides insights into key components of chloroplast signaling, presenting targets for breeding crop plants with improved capacity for environmental acclimation to enhance growth, yield and stress tolerance. 

Applied photosynthesis research

Applied photosynthesis research focuses on utilization of the model and native Nordic algae and cyanobacteria in waste-water remediation, biofuel and high-value-chemical production. In the synthetic biology program, we use cyanobacteria as a production chassis to engineer metabolic pathways for highly efficient production of fuels, commodities and fine chemicals. The main goal is to reach high conversion of solar energy to targeted products using water and CO2 and sunlight. Applied research is intimately integrated with our basic research and comprises the designing, engineering and optimization of photosynthetic electron transfer and metabolic pathways.

Research groups

Osmotic stress signaling in Arabidopsis

We are interested in abiotic stress signaling pathways in plants. An understanding of the plant signaling pathways responding to osmotic stress is important for both basic science and agriculture, because drought, cold and soil salinity are important problems. The pathways are also connected to sugar/energy sensing pathways. We use genetics and biochemical approaches to clarify the pathways with model plants Arabidopsis. Read more

Contact information: Dr. Hiroaki Fujii

Photosynthesis Group

We study plant species across a broad range of evolutionary diversity; including angiosperms and conifers, lycophytes and mosses, green algae and cyanobacteria. Our primary aim is to understand the organization and dynamics of electron transport in thylakoid membranes of oxygen-evolving photosynthetic organisms, with a focus on an array of different regulation mechanisms that are vital for plants and cyanobacteria to thrive in the fluctuating conditions of their natural growth environments. Read more

Contact information: Prof. Eva-Mari Aro

Photosynthetic Microbes

Cyanobacteria and algae are model organisms for the study of oxygenic photosynthesis and are also promising feed-stocks for blue biorefineries. Our team is focused on identification of ‘waste’ points in photosynthetic electron transport leading to the loss of productivity. We are also studying the biodiversity of Nordic microalgae for production of biofuels, high-value products and wastewater remediation and developing immobilization techniques to increase light-to-product conversion efficiency. Read more

Contact information: Prof. Yagut Allahverdiyeva-Rinne

Plant Biophysics Project

Photosynthesis is our main research topic, and the group has a long record in research on the adverse effects of strong light on photosynthesis. We have focused on Photosystem II, the oxygen-production machine of life, and have developed research methods based on chlorophyll a fluorescence and thermoluminescence. Recently our research has focused on the electron carrier plastoquinone. We also do applied research on precision agriculture and on the use of algae in wastewater applications. Read more

Contact Information: Dr. Esa Tyystjärvi

Plant-fungus interactions

We are developing and using molecular detection and quantification methods for different fungal species including Fusarium and Aspergillus species and fungi used in biological control. The molecular data is also used for taxonomical and phylogenetic investigations and to determine, which mycotoxins are correlated with the DNA levels of different plant pathogenic fungi. Read more

Contact information: Dr. Tapani Yli-Mattila

Plant-Machine Interactions

Plant research and research-based innovation is largely limited by the lack of equipment on the market that can subject plants to multiple simultaneous changes in environmental conditions in a controlled manner and measure plant performance at the same time. We have developed a Minibiosphere platform that, in addition to controlling conditions and measuring plant responses, also enables intelligent AI-based feedback control of conditions. The project combining photosynthesis, IoT and AI reserch uses the platform for research on AI-based optimisation of indoor agriculture and micro algae-based photobiological conditions, and as well for novel AI-assisted research aiming at deep understanding of photosynthesis related gene-environment interactions. Read more

Contact information: Assist. Prof. Mikko Tikkanen

Redox networks in plant chloroplasts

Plants have adopted efficient mechanisms to sense changes in light conditions in order to cope with environmental stresses and to raise plant fitness in natural growth conditions. Redox signals are crucial members of the signalling networks. The project aims at analyzing chloroplast redox networks with specific focus on the thioredoxin protein family, and at dissecting their role in regulation of plant development, metabolism, and biomass production and in relation to plant fitness. Read more

Contact information: Prof. Eevi Rintamäki

Regulation of Bioenergetics in Cyanobacteria

Photosynthetic bacteria known as cyanobacteria are increasingly used as sunlight-powered green cell factories for sustainable production of biofuels and value chemicals. Understanding the regulatory mechanisms of photosynthesis is essential for channelling photosynthetic energy towards desired reactions. A key aspect of photosynthetic regulation involves fine-tuning of the membrane potential that powers ATP synthesis and controls photoprotective mechanisms. This done by regulation of the ATP synthase and via ion channels and transporters on the thylakoid membrane. We strive to elucidate these mechanisms in cyanobacteria, and find ways use that new knowledge for optimisation the productivity of photosynthetic cell factories. Read more

Contact information: Dr. Lauri Nikkanen

Protein acetylation in regulation of photosynthesis

Photosynthetic reactions capture the energy of sunlight into chemical form. We aim at resolving how acetylation of chloroplast proteins affect light harvesting, quenching of excitation energy, photosynthetic electron transfer and organization of photosynthetic machinery. Recently, we have specifically focused on the identification and characterization of chloroplast acetyltransferases and studied their effects on the dynamics of photosynthetic processes. Read more

Contact information: Prof. Paula Mulo

RNA polymerase of cyanobacteria

Transcription is a fundamental cellular process where a DNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RNAP) synthesizes an RNA copy of the template DNA, initiating and terminating RNA synthesis at the desired genomic locations at the right time. Our aim is to understand how the structurally unique cyanobacterial RNA polymerase functions, how it is regulated and could it be further optimized to construct better cyanofactories. Read more

Contact information: Dr. Taina Tyystjärvi

Signaling pathways of sexual reproduction in mushrooms

The genome sequences of several mushrooms are now publicly available including the genome of the model fungus Schizophyllum commune used in the present research. The comparison of the genomes reveals an amazing conservation of mating type genes regulating the sexual reproduction in fungal kingdom. The silico analyses also permit the identification of putative downstream components of the signaling pathways for the sexual reproduction. Read more

Contact information: Prof. emerita Marjatta Raudaskoski

Synthetic Biology of Cyanobacteria

The research is focused on synthetic biology and engineering of photosynthetic cyanobacteria as production hosts, as a foundation for new biotechnological applications. The objective is to establish novel production platforms which use cyanobacteria as biological catalysts to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide and water directly into desired industrial and consumer chemicals, using solar radiation as energy. Read more

Contact information: Assist. Prof. Pauli Kallio

Centres of Excellence

NCoE NordAqua

The Nordic Center of Excellence "Towards Versatility of Aquatic Production Platforms: Unlocking the Value of Nordic Bioresources" NordAqua (2017-2022) is funded by NordForsk. NordAqua focuses on water-related bio-economics, and specifically on the utilization of micro and macroalgae to advance the development of applications in the field. The consortium includes researchs units from ten Nordic universities and research institutes and several industrial and societal partners.

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Recent publications