Each cell in every organism depends on correctly ‘reading’ the genes on its DNA code for instructions on growth, development, and immunity. ‘Reading’ – also known as transcription – of these genes is carefully regulated to precisely dictate which genes and how much of each gene is ‘read’. Failure to precisely regulate gene transcription may have disastrous consequences for an organism. Well-known examples include various types of cancers, in which deregulated transcription leads to uncontrolled cell proliferation. Moreover, our immune system greatly depends on coordinated transcription events and malfunction leads to immune deficiency. Thus, transcription regulation plays an important role in human health.
In addition to the above medical consequences, coordinated transcription also plays an important role in agriculture. With the world population expanding as much as 1-2% every year and land designated for agriculture in decline, there is extraordinary pressure on the food and bio-fuels industry to secure a sufficient supply of agricultural crops. Moreover, recent advances indicate that crops also may be used for large-scale production of medicines such as cancer vaccines. However, every year farmers suffer tremendous losses in crop yields due to plant diseases caused by pathogenic viruses, bacteria, fungi, and herbivorous insects. Taken together with the current chemical disease prevention strategies (e.g. toxins, pesticides, etc.) that are potentially hazardous to our health, plant diseases cost the global economy billions every year. Thus, cutting back crop disease by sustainable and environmentally safe strategies represents a major challenge. An economically attractive way of securing our crop supplies, while avoiding the health risks associated with chemical disease prevention, is to genetically enhance the plant’s existing immune system. Importantly, the plant immune system is carefully regulated by the coordinated transcription of thousands of genes.Our research aims to understand how cells translate environmental signals (e.g. pathogen attack) into changes in gene transcription. Moreover, we want to understand how the activity of transcription regulators can reprogram cellular gene transcription. For more detailed information, please browse through the specific research topics in the Research menu above or on the right.