Plant Plasticity in Developmental Signaling Lab

Understanding how plants integrate environmental information into development

Welcome to the Javier Botto Lab!

The primary focus of the research in our lab is to understand how plants integrate environmental information into development. We are interested in the molecular mechanisms of physiological responses as well as in the implications for agriculture.

Phenotypic plasticity, the ability of a genotype to express variability in different environments, is probably the most important component that has allowed the evolution of species. Individuals and populations living in different geographical regions differ in many developmental traits that are presumed to reflect adaptations to different environments. Studying the mechanisms that underlie the adaptation responses of plants in changing environments to identify the genetic and molecular limitations of adaptive plasticity.

Plants are ideal organisms to understand the selective pressures of the environment in their natural environment because, given their limited mobility, they are finely adapted to their local environment. The main objective of our group is to understand how plants integrate environmental information into development. We use Arabidopsis thaliana as model laboratory system, and potato and rapeseed as model crops. Our laboratory combines molecular genetics, genome-wide expression, biochemistry, pharmacological and physiological approaches to dissect the natural genetic variation of growth and development in seeds and plants. We have research projects that focus on two interconnected areas.

Genetic and molecular basis of light and temperature adaptive plasticity

By comparative massive sequencing of Arabidopsis thaliana accessions, we found that the genome of introduced populations of Arabidopsis thaliana collected in Patagonia, has an ancestor that comes from Central European lines. Physiological analysis showed that Patagonia lines are hyposensitive to light and they have vernalization requirements. We are interested to know the causal polymorphisms of genes associated with light and temperature pathways using molecular and quantitative genetic approaches.

The phytochromes are photoreceptors that translate light information into complex signaling networks for adaptive behavioral decisions. In many ecological scenarios, the termination of seed dormancy and the promotion of seed germination are finely regulated by light and temperature. We discovered that some components of circadian clock and DOG1 gene are involved in the integration of alternating temperatures and light for the relief of dormancy in Arabidopsis seeds. Our lab is interested to understand the relevance of transcriptional and epigenetic mechanisms in the control of seed dormancy and germination.

Plant use photoreceptors to detect the proximity of other plants and translate this information into molecular signaling networks inducing plastic responses. Brassica napus (rapeseed) crop shows an enormous plasticity to plant density. We investigate the genetic and eco-physiological basis of agronomic traits to have a better comprehension of plant density on rapeseed productivity.

Function of BBX transcription factors in plant growth and development

BBX proteins are zinc-finger transcription factors involved in de-etiolation, shade avoidance, circadian clock, flowering, biotic and abiotic signaling pathways. Our lab is interested to decipher the molecular and physiological mechanisms of BBX action for the fine tuning of plant growth and development. We showed that light and hormone pathways represent a single signaling network with multiple proteins interactions in which BBX members act as transcriptional modulators providing flexible mechanisms for the regulation of gene expression. We are involved in some research projects to study the function of BBX proteins in Arabidopsis plant signaling networks.

The involvement of BBX proteins as key transcription modulators of Arabidopsis development led us to investigate their function in crops. We found that the heterologous expression of AthBBX21 enhances the rate of photosynthesis and reduces the photoinhibition by the increase of anthocyanins and phenols in potato plants. Consequently, the transgenic plants are more robust and produce more tubers. Our lab is interested to translate the understanding of BBX function from Arabidopsis model system into crops for the improvement of plant production.