PD Dr. Frank Waller

Research area

Plant-microbe interactions

Molecular mechanisms of plant pathogen resistance

Plant sphingolipids and sphingobases

Programmed cell death in plants

Bachelor / Master students:  Interested in a practical training or thesis project? Contact me!

The Team

Alina Voss, Kristina Erwardt, Frank Waller, Stefanie Schmidt, Hannah Weber

Analysis of Sphingolipids during plant pathogen responses and abiotic stress

Programmed cell death is an important mechanism used by plants to stop the spread of biotrophic pathogens in the tissue. We have shown that bacteria-triggered programmed cell death in Arabidopsis is associated with elevated levels of the sphingobase phytosphingosine. We are now investigating whether phytosphingosine plays a role as a signaling molecule in the plant defense response. We are also testing whether phytosphingosine can inhibit the growth of plant pathogens.

Environmental conditions also significantly affect the levels of specific sphingolipids. For the functional study of sphingolipids in plants we use an extensive collection of Arabidopsis mutants and overexpressor lines. These allow us to track down the function of specific sphingolipids in the plant under defined stress conditions.

Improving plant pathogen resistance by root-colonising endophytic fungi

Serendipita indica (Piriformospora indica) and Serendipita herbamans, fungi of the order Sebacinales, colonize the roots of many plant species. This colonization can increase pathogen resistance of the host plant, not only in the roots, but also in the leaves (systemic resistance). In addition, colonization can lead to accelerated development and increased yield of the plant. We investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying this improvement in plant resistance and differences in plant responses to symbionts and pathogens.

Selected publications

  1. Osman M, Stigloher C, Mueller MJ, Waller F (2020) An improved growth medium for enhanced inoculum production of the plant growth-promoting fungus Serendipita indica. Plant Methods 16:39.
  2. Glenz R, Schmalhaus D, Krischke M, Mueller MJ, Waller F (2019) Elevated Levels of Phosphorylated Sphingobases Do Not Antagonize Sphingobase- or Fumonisin B1-Induced Plant Cell Death. Plant and Cell Physiology 60:1109-1119.
  3. Weiß M, Waller F, Zuccaro A, Selosse MA (2016) Sebacinales - one thousand and one interactions with land plants. New Phytologist 211(1): 20-40.
  4. Molitor, A, Zajic, D, Voll, L, Pons-Kühnemann J, Samans B, Kogel K-H, Waller F (2011) Barley leaf transcriptome and metabolite analysis reveals new aspects of compatibility and Piriformospora indica-mediated systemic induced resistance to powdery mildew. Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions 12: 1427-1439.
  5. Peer M, Stegmann M, Mueller MJ, Waller F (2010) Pseudomonas syringae infection triggers de novo synthesis of phytosphingosine from sphinganine in Arabidopsis thaliana. FEBS Letters 584: 4053-4056.
  6. Waller F, Achatz B, Baltruschat H, Fodor J, Becker K, Fischer M, Heier T, Hückelhoven R, Neumann C, von Wettstein D, Franken P, Kogel K-H (2005) The endophytic fungus Piriformospora indica reprograms barley to salt stress tolerance, disease resistance and higher yield. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS) 102: 13386-13391.

About me

I received my Ph.D. (Biology) at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg i.Br., Germany. Studies abroad included stays in China, Taiwan and Japan.

I worked at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST), Nara, Japan as a postdoctoral fellow and worked as a group leader at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen, Germany.

Since 2009 I am leading a small research group at the Chair of Pharmaceutical Biology, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg.

Testing stress resistance of different Arabidopsis mutant lines

Funding by

Our project 'Functional characterisation of sphingobase and sphingolipid metabolism and the role of sphingobases in plant programmed cell death'  was funded until early 2019 by a grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).

Previous research was supported by: DFG, Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung / Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS),  Ostasien-Stipendienprogramm der Daimler Benz AG / Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes,  Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD).