Sensing thiol oxidation in plants

In a collaborative research project between the Joris Messens lab at the VIB Department of Structural Biology (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium) and the Frank Van Breusegem lab at VIB Department of Plant Systems Biology (Ghent University, Belgium), we are looking for a motivated graduate student.

Project Description

Abiotic and biotic stress factors (e.g. drought, extreme temperatures and various pathogen attacks) lead to severe crop yield losses worldwide due to their adverse effect on plant growth and development. Recently, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations has calculated that these detrimental environmental conditions account for approximately 40% of global crop losses. One common theme of these adverse environmental conditions is the accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS are partially reduced oxygen species, like hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), and superoxide radical (O2).

They can modify different biomolecules, including oligonucleotides, sugars, proteins, and lipids, ultimately leading to oxidative destruction of the cell. However, tightly regulated, ROS act as signal transducers orchestrating plant development and metabolic adaptation to stress conditions. These plant redox signal perception mechanisms are still poorly understood.

To get insights into these processes, we focus on the proteomic identification of the H2O2-dependent thiol modifications – the sulfenome. The sulfenome is the set of proteins in which a cysteine thiol (-SH) is oxidized to a sulfenic acid (-SOH) under oxidative stress. These reversible post-transcriptional modifications function as “redox switches” which alter the biochemical properties of redox sensing proteins. By in vivo trapping techniques, we recently identified redox active proteins involved in signal transduction, redox homeostasis and a plethora of other metabolic pathways in plants. In this project, we aim to establish a detailed structural and functional view of the mode of action of these redox proteins in signaling and during oxidative stress survival in plants.


Interested students will be guided towards an IWT-application, and should fulfill all the requirements to apply for an IWT-grant  ( Start PhD program: January 2014.


For more information contact Joris Messens ( or Frank Van Breusegem (

PhD student position | Belgium

About Karoline Wieczorek

Karoline Wieczorek

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