Members at the University of Geneva | Members at the University of Lausanne

Members at the University of Geneva

Dr. Claudia Cosio


My research is at the interface between plant biology and ecotoxicogenomics. I explore plant’s response from genes through cells and whole plant in order to identify novel biomarkers to environmental stresses and factors. This fundamental research is expected to have implication for the in-situ bioavailability determination as well as ecotoxicology field and may aid in the development of new assays for biomonitoring.
Our main research concerns heavy metals in the environment, in particular bioaccumulation and fate in the trophic chain.


Prof. Daniel Jeanmonod


 From ecosystems to genes, the lab concentrates on the study of plants and fungi, as well as the biodiversity that they represent. The research activities are linked with the Conservatoire et jardin botaniques de Genève. Many different types of research are currently being carried out:
• Floras: to name and identify plant and fungi species of several different countries or regions (e.g. Switzerland, Corsica and Paraguay).
• Biosystematic studies: to better classify and understand certain groups of plants, lichens and fungi. These monographs allow us to contribute, as specialists, to other floras across the world (most notably, Flora Neotropica, Flora Mesoamericana, the floras of Guyana, Ecuador, China, Colombia, various states of Brazil and of the United States of America).
• Vegetation ecology: to understand the natural environment and the changes induced by man (deforestation, climate warming).
• Phylogeny and molecular genetic studies: to understand the evolution of species and their relationship with one another as well as the mechanisms by which to better conserve those species threatened by extinction.


Prof. Luis Lopez Molina



Plant Developmental Genetics, Hormone Signaling

Land plant’s success to colonize different continental environments lies in part in their ability to produce seeds: structures encapsulating plant embryos, keeping them in an inert and osmotolerant state. The first step towards the adult phase of the plant is that of seed germination, a process whereby the embryo develops into a photosynthetic young seedling.

Since the embryo abandons a highly protected state, it is not surprising that germination is controlled by the environmental conditions faced by the seed. Thus, germination responds to the quality of light (e.g. favorable sun light vs unfavorable canopy light) or water (e.g. fresh vs salty water). Environmental cues determine the levels of the phytohormones gibberrellic acid (GA) and abscisic acid (ABA). GA is necessary to initiate germination by promoting the destruction of germination repressors; the DELLA factors RGL2, GAI and RGA. ABA is synthesized upon osmotic stress and blocks germination by inducing the expression of germination repressors; the transcription factors ABI3 and ABI5.

Our work mainly focuses on understanding how GA- and ABA-dependent control of seed germination is coordinated in response to environmental cues.


Prof. Michel Goldschmidt-Clermont

Genetics of Photosynthesis

Chloroplasts are organelles of the plant cell that specialize in photosynthesis. In this process, light energy from the sun is converted into chemical energy in the form of sugars and other compounds that feed the plant and indirectly fuel most of the biosphere. Chloroplast biogenesis is governed by two genomes, in the nucleus and in the organelles. Thus gene expression in the two compartments has to be tightly coordinated to ensure the assembly of the photosynthetic machinery and its acclimation to the environment, particularly to light.

Our genetic studies with the unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas have revealed many nucleus-encoded factors which are imported into the chloroplast where they play very specific roles in post-transcriptional steps of chloroplast gene expression such as RNA splicing, RNA processing and translation. We are also investigating a regulatory network of conserved protein kinases and phosphatases that are involved in light acclimation in Chlamydomonas and Arabidopsis.

Prof. Theresa Fitzpatrick


Plant Biochemistry and Physiology

Our research focuses on plant metabolism, in particular the biochemistry and physiology behind vitamin biosynthesis and degradation and how these processes interact with other aspects of general primary plant metabolism. We also address aspects of stress physiology and how alteration of vitamin metabolism affects the response to abiotic stress responses. We use bacteria, yeast and the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and a range of multi-disciplinary biological and chemical techniques as part of our research program.


Dr. Xavier Perret




Prof. Roman Ulm


Sunlight is of utmost importance to plants, not only as energy source but also as an environmental signal regulating growth and development. An important and increasing part of the incident sunlight encompasses a segment of the ultraviolet-B region (UV-B; 280-315 nm) that is not entirely absorbed by the ozone layer in the stratosphere of the Earth. UV-B radiation is potentially harmful for any organism exposed to it, but is also used as an informational signal for which plants have evolved specific and sensitive UV-B perception systems promoting UV-B acclimation and tolerance. Our understanding of this UV-B sensory pathway is presently limited to a small number of major players, and even less is known on their interplay, regulations and mechanisms of action. The major aim of our laboratory is a better understanding of UV-B perception and signalling in plants that leads to UV-B acclimation and survival.

Prof. Michael Hothorn


Signal perception at the cell surface and transduction of this signal to the cell’s interior is essential to all life forms. Plants have evolved membrane-integral receptor proteins and associated signaling cascades that drastically differ from the well-studied systems in animals. Our aim is to dissect these signaling pathways in mechanistic detail.
A second line of research, aims at uncovering the roles of linear phosphate polymers (inorganic polyphosphates) in plants, yeast and bacteria. We are interested where these polymers are located within a cell, how they are being synthesized/broken down and what’s their cellular function and physiological role.




Members at the University of Lausanne

Prof. John Pannell


Research in my lab is broadly centred on the areas of ecological genetics and plant evolutionary ecology. We are particularly interested in understanding

(1) plant gender and sex allocation strategies;
(2) the ecology, genetics and evolution of polyploidy, especially in its interaction with the sexual system;
(3) the evolution of local adaptation in colonising plant species; and
(4) the ecology and population genetics of metapopulations subject to repeated local extinctions and re-colonisations. A particular focus of much of this work is the evolution of combined (hermaphroditism) and separate sexes (dioecy), a contrast that implicates both the potential for inbreeding within populations as well as the extent to which plants specialize in one or other of their two genders.


Prof. Christian Fankhauser

Plant Photoreceptor-Mediated Signal Transduction

Both genetic and environmental factors influence growth and development of any living organism. Plant development is very plastic and is constantly modulated by environmental fluctuations. Being photoautotrophic plants are particularly sensitive to their light environment.Light affects all aspects of the plant life cycle. To optimize growth according to ambient light conditions plants evolved several classes of photoreceptors including the UV-A/blue light sensing cryptochromes and phototropins and the phytochromes maximally absorbing red/far-red light. The coordinated action of all these light receptors allows plants to fine-tune their development.

We focus our attention on two characteristic plant responses to light: phototropism which is the ability of plant stems to reorient their growth towards a unilateral source of light and shade avoidance which in shade intolerant plants such as Arabidopsis triggers elongation growth responses enabling the plant to reach unfiltered sunlight. Both light-responses contribute to the maximization of plant growth in particular in low light conditions that are typical in dense plant populations.


Prof. Edward Farmer

We work on the jasmonate pathway which controls plant immunity to herbivores. Jasmonates are lipid-derived molecules which accumulate rapidly when a plant is attacked or wounded. Our recent work has shown that the signal travelling from a wound to distal leaves has an average speed of about 4 cm per min. We have a second project on non-enzymatic lipid oxidation. We use Arabidopsis as a genetic tool to study this process and we concentrate on aspects that would be difficult to address in animals.


Prof. Christian Hardtke

A central feature of plant development is the post-embryonic formation of the majority of plant organs in a reiterative fashion. This build up of organs continues until the plant dies and can last hundreds of years in long-lived plants, like certain trees. Thus the control of plant growth and the elaboration of plant form are central to plant development.

Our research revolves around the genetic control of plant growth and development, and the underlying molecular mechanisms. We focus on genes that are responsible for modifying quantitative aspects of growth and morphology. We isolate such genes by exploiting natural genetic variation, for instance as observed in wild Arabidopsis thaliana strains. Arabidopsis is also our model of choice to characterize the cell biological and biochemical functions of the respective proteins. We are particularly interested in genes that determine the growth rate and architecture of the root system, as well as genes that determine the rate of secondary growth, i.e. the thickening of stems. We also investigate the molecular evolutionary aspects of those genes and in their role in other species, with a focus on the monocotyledon model, Brachypodium.


Dr. Christiane Nawrath

One of the important steps in the evolution of land plants is the formation of a primary barrier at the surface of aerial organs that limit the loss of water: the cuticle. The plant cuticle has evolved to a complex structure consisting of different lipid-derived compounds that plays a role in different aspects of plant biology ranging from stress protection to organ development. The research in our group is particularly directed on the elucidation of new components important for the formation of the cuticle and their significance for different cuticular functions. Arabidopsis thaliana is used as a model system for these studies.


Prof. Ian Sanders


Our work focuses on the mycorrhizal symbiosis between plants and arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. The symbiosis occurs in the majority of terrestrial plant species. Through the effects of the fungus on plant phosphorus acquisition, plants benefit and can grow better when forming the symbiosis. The association is ancient and our group seeks to understand the genetics and evolution of these important fungi and how AM fungal genetics can influence plant growth. We have demonstrated three features of AM genetics that have important consequences for how plants grow. First, the fungi harbour genetically different nuclei in a common cytoplasm. Second, the fungi can fuse and the nuclei can mix giving rise to genetically novel AM fungi. Third, segregation of nuclei occurs during spore formation, giving rise to genetically different AM fungi. Both mixing of nuclei and segregation have important conseqences on the growth of rice. We manipulate the genetics of AM fungi using these processes to study which genes are affected in the plant by genetic changes in the fungus. These processes are natural and involve no gene insertion. A part of our work involves applying this technology to produce new strains of AM fungi for commerical inoculation of crops in Colombia (in collaboration with the National University of Colombia). 


Prof. Niko Geldner

One of our main topics of interest is the study of endodermis as an invariant feature of vascular plants. It fulfils a crucial barrier function separating the extracellular space of outer cell layers from the inner apoplastic space of the vascular bundles. The "Casparian strip" has been defined as an area where endodermal cells secrete hydrophobic material in a highly localised and coordinated fashion to act as a barrier. The Casparian strip is composed of a ligno-suberic polymer, which forms an extensive, supra-cellular network. We demonstrate that there is no lateral diffusion across the Casparian Strip Domain (CSD) between outer and inner plasma membrane domains and we have identified transporters that localise to one or the other membrane region, depending on their function in uptake or efflux of nutrients. In addition we identified a new class of proteins that mark and predict the formation of the CSD. We will investigate the mechanisms underlying the formation of the Casparian Strip sub-domain on cellular surface and the localisation of proteins to either its central or peripheral side.


Prof. Pierre Goloubinoff

Our research is focused on molecular chaperones, proteins that assist the (un)folding of other proteins in the cell. Many molecular chaperones are stress-induced proteins. During and following stress, such as heat-shock, they are involved in the prevention of protein misfolding and aggregation in the cell. Hence, the chaperone network provides central mechanisms for the protection and the recovery from damaged proteins in prokaryotes and eukaryotes.
We are also interested in the mechanism for perception of heat-stress in plants. Plants need to rapidly detect mild temperature increments and develop thermotolerance by establishing appropriate molecular defenses against upcoming noxious temperatures. We found strong biochemical evidence that specific plasma membrane calcium channels act as the most upstream heat-sensors in the moss Physcomitrella patens. Currently, we are studying plant genes that are involved in the initial sensing of higher temperatures.
Our long-term goal is to understand heat-shock signaling and chaperone network, in order to prevent protein misfolding and promote the active curing of toxic protein aggregates, especially in the case of protein misfolding diseases.


Dr. Philippe Reymond

Molecular Studies of Plant-Insect Interactions

Plants attacked by insects develop an array of inducible defenses aimed at slowing the growth or development of the aggressor. We use genomics tools to monitor transcriptional changes in Arabidopsis after challenge with specialist (Pieris brassicae) or generalist (Spodoptera littoralis) leaf-chewing insects. Our research is mainly focused on two projects :

1) We want to know what are the insect-derived elicitors that trigger transcriptional reprogramming, which signals are involved in the transduction events and which transcription factors control defense gene induction after insect attack. The aim of this project to identify the genes that contribute to the plant resistance to herbivores.

2) Insect eggs deposited on a leaf represent a future threat as larvae hatching from the egg will ultimately feed on the plant. Eggs laid by Pieris brassicae modify the expression of hundreds of genes, indicating that plants are capable of detecting the presence of insect eggs and that they respond by activating defense gene expression. We want to identify the nature of egg-derived elicitor(s), the signaling pathways that control the oviposition-induced responses, and the benefits and costs of defense against oviposition.


Prof. Antoine Guisan

Spatial modelling of plant species distribution

Research topics
• plant species – environment relationships
• environmental niche stability in space and time
• rare plant species modelling, model-based sampling,
• anticipating plant invasions, weed risk assessments
• climate threat to plant diversity, predicting range shifts and extinctions
• dispersal modelling and future plant migrations in fragmented landscapes
• assembling species predictions into communities, biotic interactions
• spatial modelling of functional and phylogenetic plant diversity


Prof. Yves Poirier

There are presently three main axes of research within our laboratory.

1. Metabolic pathways in the peroxisome and synthesis of polyhydroxyalkanoates

Our laboratory studies the pathways involved in fatty acid degradation in the peroxisomes of fungi and plants using a novel tool that we have developed, namely the synthesis of the biopolyester polyhydroxyalkanoate from the polymerization of the intermediates of the ß-oxidation cycle.

2. Study of the isoprenoid pathway

Plants synthesize a wide diversity of molecules from the isoprenoid pathway. Of particular interest to our group is the synthesis of rubber and how the carbon flux through the isoprenoid pathway can be modulated to increase rubber biosynthesis.

3. Phosphate transport and metabolism

Inorganic phosphate (Pi) is one of the main nutrients limiting the growth. Our work on Pi transport and metabolism is focused on the characterization of the PHO1 gene family in Arabidopsis and rice. The PHO1 gene is involved in the loading of Pi from the root into the xylem vessels. A family of 10 genes related to PHO1 have recently been identified from the Arabidopsis genome project. Our main goal is to gain a comprehensive view of the role of these genes in phosphate acquisition and distribution throughout the plant.





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