Dr Elena Baena-Gonzalez

Research Interests

We are interested in understanding how plant sense the levels of available nutrients (e.g. carbon and nitrogen) and how they use that information to modify their physiology, growth and development. Carbon assimilated through photosynthesis provides energy to support plant growth but also generates signals that are perceived by dedicated systems to instruct plant behavior. For example, flowering is delayed if the “energy budget” is low, as this signals to the plant that conditions are not propitious to produce progeny. Indeed, water scarcity, extreme temperatures, and other stresses decrease photosynthetic capacity, generating low-energy signals that trigger protective responses whilst slowing down growth and development.

Our lab is focused on one particular energy-sensing system (the SnRK1 signalling pathway) that is crucial for stress tolerance and that is also involved in the regulation of key growth and developmental traits such as root architecture, flowering time, senescence, or seed filling.

SnRK1 (SNF1-related protein kinase 1) is an evolutionarily conserved protein kinase complex that is activated in response to low energy levels (e.g. during stress) in all eukaryotes. We have identified several regulatory mechanisms of the plant SnRK1 kinase (e.g. SUMOylation, stability, localization) that are important for modulating gene expression and metabolism during the normal day-night cycle and in response to stress. We have also shown that SnRK1 is regulated by core components of abscisic acid (ABA) signalling, allowing its activation by ABA to drive stress responses and inhibit growth. This mechanism is particularly important for controlling root growth and architecture and may have constituted an important evolutionary innovation during the water-to-land transition.

If you would like to join our group to explore how the SnRK1 energy signalling pathway is regulated (by energy signals, hormones, others) or how this system regulates stress responses or specific aspects of plant growth and development, please send an email including your CV and describing your main interests.

Group members