Olivier van Aken – new senior lecturer

I have just started at LU as a new senior lecturer in the Molecular Cell Biology Unit. I was born in Belgium and completed my PhD at Ghent University. In 2007, I moved to the University of Western Australia to continue my research as a post-doc and Research Assistant Professor. Having returned to Europe, my new lab will be focusing on how plants perceive and respond to external stress conditions, ranging from heat and water stress, to pathogen infection, and even response to physical contact (so-called ‘touch’ responses).  In particular, the role of energy converting organelles like mitochondria and chloroplasts will be studied during stress response, and how they can influence cellular signalling and gene expression through organelle-to-nuclear ‘retrograde’ signalling. The second main research area is to understand the molecular basis of how plants can change gene expression, hormone levels and downstream morphological changes within minutes of being touched. Indeed, plants are well aware of even gentle physical manipulation, for instance by rain drops falling on a leaf, or just a brief touch with a finger. This is thought to prepare the plant for further potential danger such as wounding and infection, but also changes in environmental conditions such as light, wind and rainfall.

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