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Department of Plant Sciences

The mutually beneficial arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis is the most widespread association between roots of terrestrial plants and fungi of the Glomeromycota. The association receives increasing scientific attention because of the nutritional benefit it confers to plants, its ubiquitous occurrence among contemporary plant species and, as a result of its evolutionary antiquity, an ancestral relationship to other plant interactions.
Our research focuses on molecular mechanisms underlying the formation and functioning of AM symbioses in rice and maize. It aims at developing knowledge to optimize the incorporation of the AM-symbiosis into sustainable yet modern agricultural practices. Projects include:

Rhizosphere communication

Plant-Fungal rhizosphere dialogue
Establishment of AM symbioses relies on the continuous orchestration of signals to achieve recognition and coordination of the interacting organisms. We have identified genetic determinants of the rhizosphere dialogue from rice and maize. Their functional characterization will shed light on the communicative signal exchange, “sending” and “receiving”, that impacts on the plant’s reprogramming for symbiosis and therefore on the effectiveness of AM symbioses in rice and other cropping systems.

Symbiotic phosphate acquisition

Rice terraces
Phosphate (Pi) acquisition of crops via AM symbioses gains increasing importance due to limited Pi reserves and demand for environmentally sustainable agriculture. We found that 70% of the Pi acquired by aerobically- grown rice is delivered via the symbiotic route. We would like to understand the functioning and regulation of this pathway under laboratory and field conditions to exploit the symbiosis and develop rice cultivars better adapted to low-input rice agro-ecosystem.

Arbuscules, the heart of the symbiosis

arbuscules'Arbuscules' are immensely fascinating fungal feeding structures, produced inside root cortex cells by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Arbuscules are built by consecutive dichotomous hyphal branching, ultimately adopting a complex tree-like shape at microscopic scale. As the arbuscule develops, the hosting plant cell undergoes fundamental architectural adaptations to accommodate the intracellularly expanding fungus. For instance, the plant cell dramatically increases membrane biogenesis to envelope the growing hyphal structure in the so-called peri-arbuscular membrane. The hugely enlarged membrane surface area between the two organisms appears ideal for the exchange of signals and nutrients. Remarkably, despite what seems a considerable metabolic investment, arbuscules collapse after a few days, and host cell architecture is restored to that of a non-colonized cell. Therefore, the life of an arbuscule is marked by the highly dynamic continuum of development and collapse without static intermediate stages. To capture arbuscule formation and turnover in 4D, and at ultrastructural resolution, we combined advanced multiphoton confocal imaging of living mycorrhizal rice roots with high resolution electron microscopy.

Joining the group

Contact Head of Group Professor Uta Paszkowski if you're interested in joining the group or finding out more about the group's research.


Published in Nature Communications: Controlling hormones and symbiotic partnership.

Also read Research Highlight in Nature Plants

Everything you always wanted to know about s…ymbiosis.


Published in Nature Plants: Extracellular vesicles and membrane tubules at the symbiotic interface.

Published in Nature Communications: Plant Receptor-Like Kinase controls completion of fungal life cycle in symbiosis.

Published in Nature Plants: ‘Matchmaker’ protein for plant-fungal engagement.

Published in Current Opinion in Plant Biology: Conditioning plants for arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis through DWARF14-LIKE signalling


rice, maize etc

From left: Rice; Maize; A Fungal Arbuscule

Uta Paszkowski has been elected EMBO member. Uta says: "I would like to warmly thank the community for the recognition of the work of my team over the years. Across the organisations supporting the life sciences, EMBO stands out by its varied activities to advance science through facilitating knowledge exchange and career development. I am immensely honoured to be elected member of EMBO and proud to contribute to the generation of a scientific environment in which research and researchers can flourish."