SenPEP (Pedro Aphalo’s lab) presentation

SenPEP stands for Sensory Photobiology and Ecophysiology of Plants. Our research group has been active for long, it was born in Suonenjoki in the early 1990’s, moved to Joensuu in 1995, again to Jyväskylä in 2001, and finally to Helsinki in 2006.

Our main research interest is the role of information acquisition by plants and the use of this information during acclimation and for the timing of developmental events. As informational signals are in many cases central to achieving fitness they also must have played and continue to play important roles in evolution.

Possible practical applications are vast, because by manipulating informational signals (e.g. light spectrum, or day length) one can control many plant responses: chemical composition (taste, colour, nutritional value), branching and plant form, timing of flowering, tolerance to physical stress, defenses against pests and diseases, shelf life, etc. Conversely, once the mechanisms of perception and response are understood, it will become easier to manipulate, through breeding, plant responses to informational signals.

Our research approach is problem centered, rather than method centered. Our research, thanks to many collaborations, spans from molecular biology and photoreceptors to ecology and even micrometeorology and climatology. We also make heavy use of quantitative methods and modern statistical methods. We spend a considerable effort in method development and validation of photobiological methods used in our own and other labs.

We are very happy to host students for practice work in our research group, or for B.Sc., M.Sc. and Ph.D. thesis work. As our research is interdisciplinary and encompasses different spatial and temporal scales, approaches, and techniques, we can accommodate students with different training backgrounds or interests. We are happy to host, in addition to Biology students, students with backgrounds in statistics, software development, and even electronics related to instrumentation and industrial control.

SOME DEFINITIONS

Sensory ecology: Plants are capable of sensing their physical, chemical and biological environment. They perceive signals containing information. This information is used by plants to adjust growth and morphology, and to trigger development. We are interested not only on the physiology of these processes (how they are implemented in the plant) but in their role in the adaptation and acclimation of individual plants, and especially in their role in plant-plant interactions such as competition and facilitation.

Sensory photobiology: Light is both a source of energy and a source of information for plants. Through photosynthesis plants capture solar energy. This energy is absorbed by chlorophylls and accessory pigments. Through other pigments that are in very small quantities in the plant, small amounts of energy are absorbed. This energy is not important as such but rather as a source of information about the environment. This is “light sensing” like that done by our eyes. This can be thought as a very different kind of vision than ours, but anyway a light sensory mechanism to acquire information about the environment.

Resources: Not everything is information, resources are also strong modulators of plant growth. However, we contend that resource availability is not always the only and direct driver of all plant-plant interactions.

Physiological ecology: One definition is that it is the use of physiological methods to study ecological problems. We are interested in the interactions between plants and their environment (physical, chemical and biological), including, but not limited to, plant-plant interactions.

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