Research topics in Stephan Wenkel's group
1/ Regulation of protein activity by microProteins
Many proteins achieve their function by acting as part of multi-protein complexes. The formation of these complexes is highly regulated and mediated through domains of protein-protein interaction. Disruption of a complex or of the ability of the proteins to form homodimers, heterodimers or multimers can have severe consequences for cellular function. In this context, the formation of dimers and multimers can be perturbed by proteins we refer to as 'microProteins'. These disruptive protein species contain the protein-interaction domains of bona fide interaction partners, but lack the functional domains required for the activation of, for example, transcription or DNA binding. MicroProteins thus behave as post-translational regulators by forming homotypic dimers with their targets, and act through the dominant-negative suppression of protein complex function. We study microProtein function in model in crop plants.
2/ Environmental control of morphogenesis in plants
Plants are sessile organisms and have thus to cope with the environment they are exposed to. In order to optimize reproductive success, plants have evolved refined mechanisms to respond to environmental cues by adjusting developmental processes. Small changes in the red to far-red light ratio, for example, can be detected by the plant phytochrome system and translated into growth responses. My laboratory is interested in understanding how the environment influences the basic patterning machinery and how basic patterning modules are used to steer developmental processes required for adaptive growth responses.