How do plants perceive environmental signals? The scientific research project of Science and Technology College on WKU approved by the National Natural Science Foundation

Recently, the National Natural Science Foundation (NSFC) announced its approval list. The project of Prof. Aloysius Wong–CryptoSignals: unraveling the signaling roles of cryptic moonlighting sites in complex proteins stood out under the Youth Fund category, winning the grant of 240,000 CNY. This is the second time that Dr. Wong has received the NSFC grant after his first in 2018.

 NSFC as one of the main program to support basic research in China, which has been regarded as an important indicator to evaluate the scientific research ability and academic level of a university.

Dr. Wong explained that the research is in the area of plant cell signaling. The ability to perceive environmental signals such as temperature, hormones, gases, pathogens, and ions, is key for the survivability of all living organisms. Being sessile, this ability is even more crucial for plants to allow them to rapidly adapt to the changing environment. As a fundamental property, organisms make use of intracellular signaling molecules such as cyclic nucleotides (cAMP and cGMP) and the gaseous nitric oxide (NO), to relay the signals perceived at the surface of the cell, to target proteins within the cell, to elicit appropriate physiological responses. However, the enzymes that generate and degrade these signaling molecules, as well as the proteins that sense NO, are either missing or have low activities compared to the corresponding proteins in animals and bacteria, hence “cryptic”. Plant biologists are even more puzzled because in other organisms such as animals and bacteria, the identities of these proteins are already well-known.

Dr. Wong’s team at WKU undertook this challenge to discover novel signaling components in plants. His team will use multi-disciplinary approaches such as computational and experimental methods such as enzyme- and immuno-assays, mutagenesis, LC-MS/MS, comparative genomics, and systems analysis, to identify new signaling proteins and characterize their functions in vitro. To elucidate the biological roles of the newly discovered proteins, detailed physiology and phenotyping studies in the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana will also be conducted. Dr. Wong stresses that this research will yield new knowledge that can be applied in biotechnological innovations targeted for the generation of crops that are more tolerant to biotic and abiotic stresses.

Dr. Wong’s team members at WKU include Tian Xuechen, Yang Yixin, and undergraduate students. They have recently reported their findings in Trends in Plant Science [IF: 18.313] (1) and Molecular Plant [IF: 13.164] (2); two of the most authoritative journals in the field of Plant Science (see Figure 1).


About Prof. Aloysius Wong

Dr. Wong is associate professor in biology of Science and Technology College, he gained a PhD degree in Biological Sciences from King Abdullah University of Science & Technology and a master’s degree in Cambridge. His research project has been acknowledged by the National Natural Science Foundation of China Program and Zhejiang Provincial Natural Science Foundation of China. Since his tenure at WKU, Dr. Wong has published several important papers listed in top international academic journals such as Molecular Plant, Plant Cell, Plant Journal, Bioinformatics, Development, Frontiers in Microbiology, etc.


Editor: Alisa LAI


Figure 1

Biological processes mediated by NO sensing proteins,一氧化氮传感蛋白调节的生物学过程 (1).

[1] Wong A#, Hu N, Tian X, Yang Y & Gehring C (2021). Nitric oxide sensing revisited. Trends Plant Sci. 26(9), 885-897. doi:10.1016/j.tplants.2021.03.009. #Corresponding author 

[2] Wong A#, Tian X, Yang Y & Gehring C (2021). Identification of potential nitric oxide-sensing proteins using the H-NOX motif. Mol. Plant 14(2), 195-197. doi:10.1016/j.molp.2020.11.015. #Corresponding author