Ever since starting my PhD and even my undergraduate work at the University of Vienna in Austria (under the supervision of Prof. Heribert Hirt and Dr. Claudia Jonak) I have been interested in protein kinases and protein phosphorylation in signal transduction in plants. Protein phosphorylation is a simple post-translational modification which is relatively “cheap” for a cell with a cost of one ATP per event. However, with the large number of protein kinases encoded in plant genomes protein kinase signaling cascades – or much rather networks – allow for an astonishing complexity of regulatory dynamics which are centrally involved in plant development, responses to abiotic stimuli from the environment and also the response to pathogens and beneficial microbes alike.
With my postdoctoral research at the University of Helsinki in Finland I broadened my interest and focussed on reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS had previously considered to be cytotoxic compounds but over the last decade their intriguing roles as elements of signal transduction have become more prominent. Like phosphorylation, ROS are essential signal carriers in plant development, abiotic and biotic environmental responses.
My research group is now combining those interests to study the involvement of receptor-like protein kinases (RLKs) in ROS signal transduction. RLK activation results in most cases in the active production of ROS in the extracellular space (the so-called apoplast, Kimura et al., 2017). This “ROS burst” is an integral component of signaling. However, other responses are ROS-independent and RLKs also mediate the balanced triggering of ROS-dependent and -independent signaling networks following signal perception. This early decision point is of crucial importance for a comprehensive and fine-tuned response.