Looking Forward to plants that adjust to stress


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Prof. Robert Fluhr

Prof. Robert Fluhr: "I'd like to see our research help provide for human needs by creating plants that will be resilient and remain productive in the face of future changes in environmental stresses."


Clockwork Green

Components left over after a clock has been taken apart and reassembled are usually not good news. To Prof. Robert Fluhr of the Plant Sciences Department, however, leaving pieces out and seeing what goes wrong is an excellent way to probe the workings of a plant.

To investigate plants (which are vastly more complex and robust in their operation than clocks), Fluhr changes the production of transcripts – specialized working copies of genetic information – by growing plants with specific genetic mutations. He then checks to see which functions have changed. He is especially interested in how plants react to such environmental stresses as those stemming from changes in temperature, water availability, insect infestation or disease.

By taking apart the genetic "clockwork," he has discovered the functions of genes for disease resistance, genes that contribute to the maturation of transcripts, genes involved in the regulation of leaf aging and genes that endow hardiness in polluted environments. Fluhr's research has recently led to an understanding of how plants propagate a signal from a local wound into a systemic alert signal, leading to a whole-plant defense response.

Yet his favorite challenge, one he considers his most worthwhile investment, is that of raising new "crops" of young plant scientists – an asset that promises to bear fruit for many years to come.

Prof. Robert Fluhr's research is supported by the Dr. Josef Cohn Minerva Center for Biomembrane Research; and the Raymond Burton Plant Genome Research Fund. Prof. Fluhr is the incumbent of the Sir Siegmund Warburg Chair of Agricultural Molecular Biology.