As a physicist, I bring expertise in biophysics and single-molecule as well as live-cell imaging techniques to the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology. My research career began as a PhD student in Prof Stefan Diez’s lab (2009) at the Max Planck Institute of Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, where I studied the movement of motor proteins in-vitro using single-molecule microscopy. I was excited by the multi-disciplinary approach of this institute that combined physics and microscopy with cell biology.
After my PhD (2013), I choose to apply my skills to a field that was not receiving as much attention as life sciences normally do: Plant Sciences. I joined Prof Staffan Persson’s lab at the Max Planck Institute in Potsdam, Germany as a post-doc and was lucky to be able to follow him to the University of Melbourne where he started a new research group. Through studying how plants build their cell walls, I acquired a powerful in-vivo perspective. Further, I declined an independent research grant awarded by the Australian Research Council to instead go to Potsdam and benefit from the excellent research environment. In the group of Arun Sampathkumar at the Max Planck Institute in Potsdam I explore the morphogenisis of complex cell shapes in leaves and flowers using live-cell imaging techniques and develop novel image analysis tools.
In the future, I aim to combine my in-vitro and in-vivo skills to unravel the cell biology of pattern and tissue formation in plants.
As a trained plant cell biologist, I am interested in the how the various cytoskeletal components contributes to cell wall synthesis and cellular growth processes. During my undergraduate and PhD studies at The University of British Columbia, I studied the role of various microtubule-associated proteins in regulating microtubule dynamics and cellular morphogenesis. In Arun Sampathkumar’s group, the main goal of my research is to determine the molecular mechanisms behind pavement cell morphogenesis of Arabidopsis thaliana. By using genetic, pharmacological, microscopic, and biophysical approaches, I hope to determine how microtubules and biomechanics function together in order to form the complex shapes of pavement cells.
I studied general biology in the Grenoble University, France. My master thesis focused on understanding microtubule response to different exogenous stimuli in isolated plant cells. I then worked as a lab technician for Eurofins Optimed. Now in Dr Sampathkumar´s group, I am exploring the acid growth theory in the context of morphogenesis. Using a combination of fluorescent sensors and cell wall defective mutants, I aim to understand the apoplastic pH dynamic during flower development.
The shoot apical meristem (SAM) plays a fundamental role in plant development. It houses a pool of pluripotent stem cells that sustain shoot growth and give rise to all above ground organs such as stems, leaves and flowers. SAM initiation as well as activity is tightly regulated by numerous transcription factors and phytohormones. Recent studies have revealed that Groucho/Tup-1 like co-repressors such as LEUNIG (LUG), LEUNIG_HOMOLOG (LUH) and associated co-regulators SEUSS(SEU) and SEUSS_LIKEs (SLK) are involved in regulation of SAM activity. It is based on observation that lug mutants lacking one functional LUH allele (lug luh/+) display enlarged SAM, whereas in lug luh double mutants SAM terminates during embryogenesis resulting in a seedling lethal phenotype.
My PhD project aims to determine the role of LUG co-repressor complex in regulation of SAM activity. To better understand the post-embryonic SAM defects in lug luh/+ mutants I am examining the activity of known SAM regulators in mutant and wild-type background using diverse imaging techniques. I am also investigating SAM defects using inducible LUG knockdown lines. Moreover, in order to determine at a molecular level how the LUG complex regulates SAM activity I will also perform genomewide ChIP seq experiment to identify gene targets of LUG complex.
I received my Bachelor’s degree in life science and Master’s degree in Plant Science during which I worked on Arbuscular Mycorrhizal and Dark Septate Endophyte Fungal Associations in South Indian Aquatic and Wetland Macrophytes at Bharathiar University, India. After graduating, I worked as a Research Assistant at Institute of Plant and Microbial Biology Academia Sinica. I took part in different projects, such as (i) Generation of Double Haploid the population through anther culture for Quantitative Trait Loci mapping in rice, and (ii) Study of genomics and chemical composition in Black Cumin seeds (Nigella sativa L.). Then, I joined Alisdair Fernie’s group at Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Germany. I was involved in different projects, (i) Tricarboxylic acid cycle enzymatic assay analysis using Solanum tuberosum (L.) with different analog and (ii) molecular studies on resurrection plant Haberlea rhodopensis Friv. This was part of a co-operation project with the Center of Plant Systems Biology and Biotechnology Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Currently I am pursuing my doctoral studies in regulation of endocytosis, exocytosis, and cell shape by membrane tension in the group of Dr. Arun Sampathkumar.
I gained my master degree in biology at the University of Belgrade, Serbia, where I worked on secoiridoid biosynthetic pathways of Centaurium erythraea. After my master, I managed to get a Melbourne Research Scholarship and join Melbourne-Potsdam PhD Programme. This was a fantastic opportunity for me to work with the some of the best plant scientists in the world. For my PhD, in Dr. Arun Sampathkumar’s group at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam, and Prof. Tony Bacic’s group at The La Trobe University in Melbourne, I am working on elucidating how plant cells perceive mechanical forces during their development. I am mostly interested in explaining influence of mechanical forces on structure and growth of primary plant cell wall, and how in turn cell wall contributes to development of plant structure and shape. I got extensive experience in live cell confocal microscopy as well as in atomic force microscopy and plant phenotyping.
Flowers are fascinating plant organs that exist in variable shapes and sizes. Being a reproductive part, their normal growth and development are essential for the health of the plants. Complex morphologies arise by intricate changes in the local growth rates and directions. My interest lies in comprehending how transcriptional regulators interplay with cell wall mechanics to generate different shapes in plants. In addition to this, the study will also highlight the importance of microtubules and cellulose in maintaining the integrity of different developmental stages of flowers and patterning of various floral organs.
Ruben van Spoordonk
I acquired both my BSc and MSc degrees in Biology at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands. I worked on several projects with the group of Cell Biology, studying the cytoskeleton of Physcomitrella patens protonema cells in relation to cytokinesis and tip growth. I even got the chance to go on an internship to the Carnegie Science Institute in Stanford where I researched the reorientation of the cortical microtubule array of Arabidopsis thaliana hypocotyl cells in response to blue light. Working on these projects sparked my interest plant cell and -developmental biology and I developed a taste for fluorescence live cell imaging. I have now found my way to the group of Arun Sampathkumar, where I study the organization and dynamics of the microtubule array in developing leaf epidermis cells to find out how this contributes to cell shape.
Plant shape formation is crucial for its efficient adaption to environment. It has been proposed that shape formation is coordinated by regulation of cellular and tissue level growth direction and growth rate, as well as cell division. The perception and response to changes in mechanical forces has over the last decade or so has focused on the microtubule cytoskeleton. My interest is to investigate the role of actin, the other plant system cytoskeleton, in Arabidopsis shoot apical meristem morphogenesis, especially at a cellular level.