Structural plant biology

Structural Biology & Cell Biology & Genetics

Plants are nature’s other successful experiment with multicellular life. We are interested in signaling and metabolic pathways that allow plants to grow and to develop. Our approach combines structural biology and biochemistry with cell biology and genetics in Arabidopsis.

Currently, we study how plant cells communicate with each other at their cell membrane, where they have evolved unique membrane receptor kinases. These receptors sense steroid and peptide hormones to orchestrate growth and development, to establish and maintain stem cell populations and to form plant organs and tissues. We have shown that these receptors require helper proteins for activation. We now want to obtain a molecular understanding of plant peptide hormone signaling and identify novel receptor complexes.

A second line of research is to understand how plants sense and store phosphate, an essential plant nutrient. We became interested in this topic by identifying a protein complex, which uses cytosolic ATP to generate long chains of inorganic polyphosphate, an important phosphate store in yeast. We have initiated a set of projects to test whether plants also make use of polyphosphates to store phosphate.

Research topics

  • Plant membrane signaling
  • Receptor kinases
  • Brassinosteroid signaling
  • Cytokinin signaling
  • Polyphosphate metabolism
  • Phosphate sensing


  • Receptor agonist/antagonist development
  • Structural Biology / Protein Crystallography of signaling proteins and metabolic enzymes
  • Quantitative biochemistry. Protein-Protein interactions. Protein-Ligand interactions 

Contact Person

Prof. Dr. Michael Hothorn

University of Geneva
Department of Botany and Plant Biology
+41 (0)22 379 30 13


  • Title: Perception of root-active CLE peptides requires CORYNE function in the phloem vasculature
    Author(s): Hazak, Ora; Brandt, Benjamin; Cattaneo, Pietro; et al.
    Source: EMBO REPORTS, 18 (8): 1367-1381 AUG 2017
    Document Type: Article (Details)
  • Title: The Structural Basis of Ligand Perception and Signal Activation by Receptor Kinases
    Author(s): Hohmann, Ulrich; Lau, Kelvin; Hothorn, Michael
    Source: ANNUAL REVIEW OF PLANT BIOLOGY, VOL 68, 68: 109-137 2017
    Document Type: Review; Book Chapter (Details)
  • Title: The macro domain as fusion tag for carrier-driven crystallization
    Author(s): Wild, Rebekka; Hothorn, Michael
    Source: PROTEIN SCIENCE, 26 (2): 365-374 FEB 2017
    Document Type: Article (Details)
  • Title: Control of eukaryotic phosphate homeostasis by inositol polyphosphate sensor domains
    Author(s): Wild, Rebekka; Gerasimaite, Ruta; Jung, Ji-Yul; et al.
    Source: SCIENCE, 352 (6288): 986-990 MAY 20 2016
    Document Type: Article (Details)
  • Title: Mechanistic insight into a peptide hormone signaling complex mediating floral organ abscission
    Author(s): Santiago, Julia; Brandt, Benjamin; Wildhagen, Mari; et al.
    Source: ELIFE, 5: APR 8 2016
    Document Type: Article (Details)