IGC scientist receives prestigious EMBO installation grant

December 10, 2009

Elena Baena-González is to receive one of this year's Installation Grants, awarded by the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO). This is the third consecutive year that a scientist from the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, IGC, is awarded this prize of 50,000 euros annually, for three to five years, and consequent entrance into the prestigious network of some of Europe's best young group leaders.

The award will allow Elena Baena-González to pursue her studies into plant responses to stress. Water scarcity, extreme temperatures and salinity can cause stress to a plant and in doing so are the major cause of crop yield losses worldwide Elena's previous work has shown that different stresses trigger largely similar responses in the plant cell, which include halting growth and re-balancing the cell's internal environment, poising the cell for more targeted stress-responses.

Elena discovered that right at the top of this cascade of stress-response reactions is a family of proteins known as SnRK1s (Snf1-related kinase1) in plants, that are also found and highly conserved in yeast and mammals. In the next five years Elena plans to further explore how this energy sensor is regulated, and how it acts to restore the metabolic and energy balance, promoting cell survival and allowing the setting up of longer-term responses for the adaptation of plants to their environment.

As Elena puts it, "At a time when the climate is changing significantly, it is more important than ever to understand how plants respond to stress and how they allocate their energy stores. Ultimately, this knowledge may have an impact on crop yields".

Elena is thrilled that the EMBO installation grant has been awarded to plant research, and, moreover, only one year after arriving at the IGC. Elena says: "The energy sensor in plants, SnRK1, is conserved throughout evolution, all the way to mammals, so this study, although carried out using the plant model study Arabidopsis thaliana, may have implications in a variety of other living organisms.

This is the third time that EMBO awards one of their Installation Grants to IGC scientists. In 2007, Mónica Dias' award allowed her to pursue her research into regulation of cell cycle progression in normal development and cancer; and in 2008 Lars Jansen also won this award for his proposal to further explore assembly and function of the centromere, a key cellular structure in powering and controlling chromosome segregation and accurate cell division.

Portugal is a member state of the EMBC, the EMBO intergovernmental funding body and, as such, hosts and fully finances the grants awarded to scientists who wish to establish themselves in this country. Elana Baena-Gonzalez's award will be financed by the Portuguese national funding agency, Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT).
-end-


Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia

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