How do plants react to changes in carbon availability, how does photosynthetically fixed carbon get deposited in the cell wall, and how is the cell wall synthesized and degraded? These are important questions that the group tackles using classical biological and biochemical approaches as well as by applying integrative biology methods relying on bioinformatics, mathematical modelling and omics techniques.
Within the biological stream the group is establishing new techniques to measure intermediates e.g. nucleotide sugars which serve as activated precursors for the cell wall synthesis. To find novel genes involved in cell wall synthesis and modification the group taps into natural and induced variation. In addition, predicted genes stemming from the theoretical stream are investigated using classical reverse genetic approaches.
Within the theoretical stream, efficient omics data storage and analysis using visualization techniques is a major topic. The group aims to gain a novel understanding about biology from high throughput data (e.g. metabolomics, transcriptomics or next generation sequencing). This is done by enriching the data with ontological knowledge and by using machine learning techniques. In addition, the group is developing novel algorithms and tools to assess next generation sequencing data to facilitate their biological interpretation.
The strengths of the institute lie in the analysis of the plant cell wall and the understanding of its metabolism and regulation, and the analysis of high throughput data and its application to new biological problems. Furthermore, the Institute brings a wealth of knowledge in the field of plant gene annotation using functional ontologies.
The expertise in the cell wall field will greatly facilitate the aims of the BioSC of "improving the quality and quantity of biomass" and "optimization of the usability of plant biomass through improved material composition of the plant." At a later stage invasive measurements of the cell wall are performed in medium throughput scale potentially adding to the phenotyping platform.
For the cross-sectional topics, the institute will make strong contributions to the area of “genomics-based methods”, and here specifically to the annotation of plant metabolic pathways. In addition, the group will leverage its extensive experience in “data retrieval and knowledge representation” towards the aims of the Bioeconomy Science Center.