University of Dundee

Royal Society University Fellowship for Martin Balcerowicz

20 Aug 2021

Dr Martin Balcerowicz has been awarded a five-year Royal Society University Fellowship to research how temperature affects plant growth. This work may provide ways to breed plants that are more resilient towards climate change.

Temperature affects virtually all aspects of plant growth, from the onset of germination to flower and fruit production. These effects have direct agricultural impact: In wheat and barley, each 1 °C increase above optimal growth temperature reduces crop yield by 5-6 %. How plants sense and react to temperature is thus a key question in both fundamental and applied plant biology.

Martin said, “I’m thrilled to have been awarded a Royal Society University Research Fellowship to join the School of Life Sciences in January 2022. I’ll investigate how distinct RNA features contribute to temperature-dependent control of plant development.”

“The structure of RNA changes with temperature and can thereby function as a “molecular thermostat” or “thermoswitch”. We recently discovered the first plant RNA thermoswitch in the model species Arabidopsis: its structure relaxes at warm temperature and thereby speeds up the RNA molecule’s translation into a protein. Its mode of action relies only on conserved parts of the translation machinery, suggesting that thermoswitches are functional in a wide variety of plants, including cereals.”

“The discovery of plant thermoswitches opens exciting avenues for future research. I will investigate thermoswitches in more detail during my Fellowship to provide fundamental insights into the importance of diverse thermoswitch sequences for plant growth. The work will also present ways to breed climate-resilient plants that can cope with the challenging temperature environment of the future.”

Professor Paul Birch, Head of the Division of Plant Sciences said, “Martin Balcerowicz is an exceptionally talented young plant scientist and we look forward to welcoming him into the Division of Plant Sciences. His ground-breaking discovery of the first RNA thermoswitch to be described in eukaryotes opens a new door to explore and influence plant development in response to real-world temperature fluctuations. This is particularly relevant to our needs to mitigate the effects of climate change on crop production, and is aligned to the objectives of the new Tay Cities Deal development at the James Hutton Institute, where we are located”.

Martin Balcerowicz will join our Division of Plant Sciences in January 2022 from his current position at the Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge (SLCU).

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