How cells talk to each other

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Graduate Office


Plants are sessile organisms that have developed integrated and sophisticated signalling systems to respond to their environment. Plant cells are immobile and thus must relay information between cells and tissues by the deployment of mobile molecules or propagating signalling cascades. By such mechanisms plants can activate a stress response far from the site of detection, leading to changes in gene expression in cells that have not yet but are likely to encounter the stress. In this way, a tissue in a leaf can be primed for defence following detection of a pathogen in a different leaf or the root.

One mechanism by which plants signal between distal tissues is by the propagation of calcium waves. Models exist which suggest that a combination of calcium ions and reactive oxygen species work in partnership to propagate this signal, but this requires further testing as recent data suggests some of the underlying assumptions are incorrect. In particular, the role of plasmodesmata (membrane-lined cytoplasmic connections between the cells) and the signalling distance of both classes of molecules in the absence of propagation need further investigation.

This project will use state-of-the-art imaging technologies to investigate the role of plasmodesmata (membrane-lined cytoplasmic connections between the cells), and the signalling distance of reactive oxygen species and calcium ions, to establish the mechanisms underlying long distance calcium signalling in plants. Mathematical modelling will be used (in collaboration) to integrate this information to form testable predictions to guide further hypotheses and experimentation.

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M011216/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2023
1771316 Studentship BB/M011216/1 01/10/2016 31/12/2020 Annalisa Bellandi
Description We developed experimental and computational methods to study the ceel-to-cell transmission of calcium signals in plants.
We applied this method to study the dynamics the mode of cell-to-cell transmission and the molecular machinery at the base of cell-to-cell transmission of wound-induced and elicitors-induced calcium waves in plants.
Exploitation Route The method we developed will be useful for whoever wants to study the cell-to-cell spread of calcium signals in plants, or other signals for which fluorescent reporters for live imaging are available.
Sectors Other

Title Quantification of signals cell-to-cell transmission dynamics 
Description This methods is composed of two parts: and experimental part and a computational part. The experimental part involves elicitation of calcium waves with high precision and high spatial-temporal resolution in intact and soil-grown plants. The computational part involves image and data analysis that allow for the detailed study and quantification of the dynamics of cell-to-cell transmission of the signals. 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact By applying this method we were able to study the dynamics of cell-to-cell transmission of wound-induced and elicitors-induced calcium waves in aerial tissue in soil grown plants. This gave new insights on the mode and route of cell-to-cell transmission of these signals and on the molecular machinery that sustains the process. 
Description Good Research Practice workshop at Pwani University 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact The Good Research Practice workshop is an 8 weeks long workshops on soft skills for undergradaute students of various departments involved in scientific research. The purpose of this initiative is to improve the undergraduate experience, opportunities and capabilities from a sceintific and academic point of view,

I was responsible of organizing and running the event during the first semester of the academic year 2018/2019 at Pwani University (Kenya). A total of 278 students attended at least one session and 112 attended at least the 80% of the course.
The course included elements of peer-lead-team learning, peer-assisted learning, seminars, group work and practical exercises alongside theory-based sessions and focused on some personal, interpersonal, techinical and academic skills that are foundamental for scientific research across different departments.
Students were extremely inspiring, responsive and proactive and they were never discouraged by the many obstacles caused by the administrative context nor by the amount of work requested by the course.

At the end of the course I organized a Students' conference where 130 students took part, with 20 students presenting posters and 11 presenting talks.

The lecturers at Pwani University confirmed that the workshop and the conference had a huge impact on the confidence, attitude and commitement to study of the undergraduates. A survey conducted among the students revealed very positive outcomes, for example the 95% of them found the workshop extremely useful or useful, 91% of them thinks that the training provided will help them in their scientific career, 93% would reccomend to a friend to follow the workshop next year, 75% of them affirms that participanting in the conference made them develop or discover academic and personal skills they were not aware of.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018