The sessile lifestyle of plants requires extraordinary plasticity. A given plant genotype allows for a broad range of phenotypes that are determined by complex interactions between environment and genotype. It is currently not possible to ab initio predict a plant’s phenotype from its genotype for a given environment. Resolving the genotype-phenotype relationship represents an important fundamental problem in biology and the development of models that predict phenotypes for given environments from genotypes denotes an important challenge, both for fundamental as well as for applied science.
The International Research Training Group 2466 (NEXTplant) will focus on developing models that predict resource allocation to structure and growth, defense and stress response, nutrient acquisition, and reproduction in photosynthetic organisms, at the levels of individual cells, organs, and whole organisms. The resource allocation phenotype will be addressed from multiple angles and environmental contexts, in a small set of genetically tractable and well-characterized organisms that generate their carbon resources by photosynthesis. The experimental design of the doctoral projects follows a simulate/learn-design-build-test-cycle that depends on close interactions between experimental and computational biologists. Hence, projects are led by teams of theoretical and experimental biologists. This interdisciplinary approach brings together an international group of computational, theoretical, and wet-lab biologists and that builds on extensive resources, platforms, and complementary expertise of the contributing partner institutions, Heinrich Heine University (HHU), Jülich Research Center (FZJ, IGB-2 Plant Sciences), and Michigan State University (MSU). These include outstanding whole-plant and micro-algae phenotyping setups at MSU and FZJ as well as physiological, metabolomics, transcriptomics, and quantitative cell biological phenotyping systems at HHU.