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Department of Biochemistry

Young plants in growing trays.

Kathryn Lilley is part of a national consortium that has been awarded a £4.5M grant to research the futureproofing of crops against climate change to protect crop productivity.


Durham University will lead research into how plants adapt to their environment, alongside their collaborators from Nottingham and Liverpool universities and Professor Kathryn Lilley's Group from our Department.

As immobile organisms, plants rely on their ability to adapt to the environment in order to survive. Plant adaptation to factors such as heat, high salinity and drought is partly dependent on a quick and reversible process, known as SUMOylation, that modifies proteins through the addition or removal of Small Ubiquitin-like Modifier (SUMO) proteins.

Durham researchers and their partners have previously shown that manipulating SUMO modification of certain proteins can help plants to survive and flourish in harsh environments.

The £4.5M of funding, awarded through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) strategic Longer Larger (sLoLa) grants call, will help researchers further understand what triggers SUMO modification and how this activity assists plants in adapting to environmental stresses.

Project lead Professor Ari Sadanandom, from Durham University's Department of Biosciences, said: "Understanding how protein modification systems control adaptive responses in plants could have huge implications for agriculture, as this knowledge will be crucial for generating stress-resistant crops."

"This funding from the BBSRC will help us learn more about SUMO modifications and determine how it programs cellular processes that enable plants to adapt their growth based on their environment."

"We want to understand how SUMO converts environmental signals into a physiological response in plants. By understanding the 'SUMO code', we hope to help researchers and breeders to edit and rewrite the code to develop crops that are futureproofed against changes in climate to protect crop productivity."

This research brings together expertise from across the four universities, including bioimaging, protein biochemistry, proteomics, and computational biology.

Professor Kathryn Lilley said: "I'm very excited to be part of this project and to have the opportunity to work with such excellent plant biologists. From a proteomics point of view, SUMO is tricky, but Ari Sadanandom already has some superb tools that will allow us to map the SUMO code and also its spatial distribution in plant cells under different stress conditions."

"This is my group's second Arabidopsis-based BBSRC sLoLa in two years, with completely different sets of collaborators. The first project with Freddie Theodoulou (Rothamsted) and Richard Mott (UCL) concerns what dictates protein abundance in plants. Despite the two projects having very different aims, there is some synergy between them, and they will both benefit from each other's technical developments and computational resources."


Young plants in growing trays.

Credit: Pixabay/AndreasGoellner.


Adapted from Durham University press release

Publication date

2 October 2020