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Spotlight on Postdocs

Dr. Raz Danieli

Balancing Growth and Stress in Plants
Plant Biology

Dr. Raz Danieli is a Va’adia-BARD Postdoctoral Fellow at Michigan State University at the College of Natural Science, in Professor Brandizzi’s lab.

What is the main focus of your postdoc work?

“My postdoctoral research focuses on understanding the delicate balance between stress and growth in the plant kingdom. Specifically, I study the molecular links between the unfolded protein response (UPR) induced by endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and nutrient sensing mechanisms.

 Physiological and environmental stresses often result in the accumulation of misfolded proteins in the ER (a dynamic structure within the cell that serves different roles), leading to a potentially lethal condition known as ER stress. The UPR is a highly conserved signaling pathway that communicates ER stress to the nucleus, initiating an adaptive response to restore ER protein folding. However, if cells fail to recover from ER stress, the UPR can repress the adaptive response and trigger cell death.

Unmanaged or ineffective UPR is implicated in severe human diseases as well as being responsible for significant agricultural production losses. In such a case the plant must juggle the allocation of its limited resources toward either new growth or towards responding to stress, The UPR plays a crucial role in maintaining this delicate balance. However, the underlying mechanisms for this condition are still not fully understood. In a recent study, Prof. Brandizzi and her team uncovered a link between two different genes: one a key UPR regulator, and the other an energy sensor gene. By leveraging various omics data layers and targeting potential candidates, my research aims to unravel the molecular links enabling plants to assess their stress status and available nutrient resources, thereby making critical life-and-death decisions.”

What got you interested in nutrient sensing in plant growth?

“Growing up in Kibbutz Yotvata, located in the Arava desert, I was always intrigued by how plants thrived in such extreme conditions. Witnessing scientific breakthroughs that enabled agriculture in desert environments fueled my fascination with plant biology and its potential for addressing global challenges, such as climate change and population growth. This realization motivated me to pursue a Ph.D. focused on improving crop yields. Joining Dr. Dani Eshel’s group (at ARO), I delved into studying dormancy using potato tubers as a model system.

Dormancy, a vital physiological mechanism for plant survival during harsh environmental conditions like cold temperatures, posed challenges for agricultural productivity by limiting growth to specific seasons. Our research revealed that dormancy duration is influenced by sugar availability and could be manipulated through agronomic treatments or genomic interventions. It was during this time that I recognized the importance of nutrient sensing in plant growth. While timing growth with environmental cues is crucial, plants must also consider their internal energy and nutrient status for optimal growth. Although our work made significant strides in addressing potato dormancy challenges in Israel, I believe a deeper understanding of nutrient sensing mechanisms is essential for controlling plant growth effectively.

My lifelong aspiration has been to contribute to improving agriculture by enhancing yields, efficiency, and sustainability. While the specific path has evolved over time, I firmly believe that scientific discoveries offer the most potent means to achieve this goal. Thus, I intend to continue pursuing an academic career, ideally in Israel, my homeland, to which I feel a deep connection. However, I am open to opportunities wherever scientific inquiry leads me.”

What tip would you give someone beginning their postdoctoral research?

“Navigating the postdoctoral phase can be challenging, as every research environment is unique, and individual interests vary. Based on my experience, I recommend selecting a well-established research group with diverse expertise and cultural backgrounds. The postdoctoral period presents an invaluable opportunity to immerse oneself in cutting-edge science, collaborate with top researchers in the field, build networks, and expand one’s knowledge base. By seizing these opportunities, you can maximize your potential and pave the way for impactful research in the future.”