Agroecology 3 min

Two ERC grants for Olivier Hamant's team, for the study of shape acquisition in plants

Olivier Hamant has received an ERC Advanced Grant for the MUSIX project, which studies the role of mechanical forces on the shape of plants. He also welcomes to his team Charlotte Kirchhelle, winner of an ERC Starting Grant for a project on the same subject.

Published on 22 April 2021

illustration Two ERC grants for Olivier Hamant's team, for the study of shape acquisition in plants

The MUSIX project

Olivier Hamant, INRAE Research Director at the Plant Reproduction and Development Laboratory (1) explains the objectives of the MUSIX Multiscale mechanical signaling in plants project:

“During development, living organisms change in shape and therefore also in structure. The associated mechanical stresses affect cell behavior and thus development. Plants are ideal systems to study the implications of force perception in development because their mechanics are simpler: plant cells are subjected to strong hydraulic pressure, which their walls resist.

In this project, we propose a multi-scale approach that looks at the structure and molecular dynamics of the elements of the internal skeleton of the cell, including the integration of mechanical conflicts between neighboring cells growing at different speeds. Our goal is to understand how cells incorporate these mechanical signals to create plant organs in reproducible shapes. 

The main technical breakthrough of MUSIX is the introduction of a new high-throughput single cell system in which the cell wall is replaced by a synthetic framework of controllable geometry, chemistry and mechanics. This work has important implications beyond plant science, such as cell signaling (how cells perceive their environment), self-perception (how organs perceive and monitor their own shape and growth), compensation (how organs handle growth-related mechanical conflicts), and robustness (how tissues handle fluctuations in growth)."

Olivier Hamant was also awarded an ERC "Consolidator Grant" in 2013. He also received the INRAE Young Researcher Award in 2012 (read the article).

The EDGE-CAM project

Olivier Hamant’s team welcomes Charlotte Kirchhelle as a research fellow on 1 September, 2021. Charlotte Kirchhelle is the recipient of an ERC Starting Grant at the University of Oxford on the EDGE-CAM project: Edge-based mechanisms coordinating cell wall assembly during plant morphogenesis. She explains the objectives of the project:

“A central question in biology is how organisms robustly produce organ shapes, which requires the integration of biochemical and mechanical signals across multiple scales in space and time. In plants, morphogenesis is driven by the rigid cell wall, which fixes the cells in their position.

Based on our recent finding that a trafficking route directed to cell edges is essential for cell wall assembly and directional growth at the cell and organ scale, we suggest that organogenesis is controlled by a signaling module at cell edges that integrates cell wall feedback.

The project will test this hypothesis. It will also identify other components of the signaling module at the molecular level, functionally characterise trafficking pathways at the cellular level, and analyze how robust growth emerges from edge-based feedback at the organ level, thus providing a multi-scale mechanistic model of morphogenesis in plants.

(1) UMR ENS de Lyon / Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1 / INRAE / Inria / CNRS.

In 2020, France received 22 of the 209 ERC Advanced Grant awarded. It ranks third behind Germany (40 projects funded) and the United Kingdom (51 projects funded). With the MUSIX project, INRAE is the winner of one of these 22 Advanced Grants.

In 2020, INRAE obtained 5 ERC grants, for 30 project applications, i.e. a success rate of 16.7%.

See all INRAE ERC 2020 laureates  here.


Olivier Hamantresearch directorPlant reproduction and development laboratory



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