The Graduate School Experimental Plant Sciences (EPS)

ERC Grant for Dolf Weijers

Dolf Weijers (Biochemistry, WUR) has won an ERC Advanced Grant of 2.5 million euros for his research programme ‘DIRNDL – Directions in Development’: Multicellular organisms have a front, a back, a top and a bottom, an outside and an inside. To develop normally, each cell in the body needs to know where each side is, so that it can adjust the way it divides, grows and differentiates. This is critical to maintain single cell layers in human organs and prevent uncontrolled cell division, but is equally important in defining the growth and development of plants. Somehow, the information about what is the up/down/out/inside of the entire organism needs to be translated to landmarks in each cell – so-called cell polarity – so the cell can use this information. In humans, yeast and animals, it is relatively well-understood how cell polarity is generated. In plants however, this process has remained a big mystery. One reason that so little is known about how cell polarity is generated in plant cells may be that this process is very important already early during embryo development, and therefore very difficult to identify.
In a previous ERC Starting Grant, Dolf Weijers’ team has made important steps in developing the tools to study cell polarity generation in the young plant embryo. While doing so, the team recently discovered components of a plant cellular compass, that may just be part of the mysterious cell polarity system. Quite intriguingly, the components of this plant compass resemble an important component of the animal and human cell compass. In the ERC Advanced Grant project DIRNDL (Directions in Development), Dolf Weijers and his team will build upon their expertise in plant embryo development and on the identification of the new plant compass to systematically identify the genes and proteins that build the plant cellular compass and help cells to align their cell division to the axes of the compass.