Biocenter SymbolBiocenter - Viikki
Plant Molecular Biology and Forest Biotechnology Center of Excellence 2000-2005
Funded by Academy of Finland
Coordinator Academy Professor Tapio Palva
The research unit consists of 8 teams led by senior scientists. In addition to the leaders of the groups 13 postdoctoral fellows and about 34 graduate students are included. This combination forms a balanced research unit with scientists at all levels of their research careers and enough senior staff for supervising graduate students. 

A diagram of all the various factors inside and outside the cell being studied in the Center of Excellence on Plant Molecular Biology and Forest Biotechnology.

The group leaders:

Tapio Palva, Prof. (coordinator)
Div. of Genetics and Institute of Biotechnology

Kurt Fagerstedt, Docent
Div. of Plant Physiology

Pekka Heino, Docent
Div. of Genetics

Yrjö Helariutta, Researcher
Institute of Biotechnology

Jaakko Kangasjärvi, Docent
Institute of Biotechnology

Martin Romantschuk, Assoc. Prof.
Div. of Microbiology

Hannu Saarilahti, Docent
Div. of Genetics

Teemu Teeri, Prof.
Institute of Biotechnology


Current research is focused on addressing one of the central questions in plant biology: How do plants respond and adapt to their environment. A multidisciplinary approach (including molecular, genetic, biochemical and physiological techniques as well as a heavy emphasis on genomics) is employed to understand the molecular mechanisms of this adaptation and to apply this knowledge to biotechnical engineering of plants.


Plant growth, distribution and productivity as well as product quality are greatly influenced by the environmental stresses and other stimuli plants are continuously exposed to. The optimal growth and development is far from that realized in the field or in the forest. Plants as sessile organisms have developed various and sophisticated ways to react to the changes in the environment by altering their metabolism accordingly. Effective responses to both external and internal stimuli will ensure both optimal growth of the plant and survival in an environment where it is continuously challenged by both abiotic and biotic stresses. In all living cells perception of and response to stimuli triggers a cascade of complex events involving initial recognition of the signal and subsequent transduction of the signal to the physiological response. The signal transduction process is normally acting through generation of chemical second messengers which modulate the activity of different effector proteins, such as protein kinases and phosphatases. Signalling events in plants have only recently been characterized and information about the molecular components of these cascades been obtained. It is becoming clear that the signal transduction pathways in higher plants utilize partly similar receptors and second messengers that are used in animal cells but also signal components previously thought to be specific to bacteria. The research of the unit will be focused on elucidation of signal pathways and components required for expression of specific genes involved in plant response to stress stimuli as well as ascribe the function of the corresponding response proteins. As plant models we will use Arabidopsis and birch. The responses to stresses such as suboptimal temperatures, drought, flooding, pathogens and herbivores (wounding) will all trigger a number of signaling events in the plant cell. However, it is becoming clear that many of the pathways involved in stress signaling and growth control interact.


The aim of our program is to elucidate the fundamental biological processes that govern plants responses and adaptations both to its environment and to internal stimuli, the molecular communication involved in such responses as well as to ascribe functions to the response proteins and other molecules involved.

To this aim we shall:

  1. Dissect the signal processes involved in plant responses to environmental stimuli, such as cold and drought, anoxia, pathogens and wounding.
  2. Characterize the role and interaction of plant signal molecules/hormones such as AOS, JA, SA and ethylene in these stress responses as well as in senescence and wood formation.
  3. Ascribe functions to stress response proteins and other defense related compounds. Characterize novel metabolic pathways for synthesis of such compounds.
  4. Characterize the final enzymatic steps in the biosynthesis of lignin and the role of lignin both as a defense substance and in wood development.
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