Professor Hwang Ildoo (Life Sciences)
Regardless of where a person was born or raised, it is safe to assume that they have two arms and two legs. This physical assumption, however, does not apply to the plant world. Plants differ in the number of leaves or branches they have and in the length of stems they grow based on whether they grow in sunlight or in the water, or are shade-dwellers. This is due to the plant developmental signaling which is expressed differently depending on the plant’s environment.
The Development Signaling Network Lab, led by Professor Il-Doo Hwang of the Department of Life Sciences at POSTECH, explores the signal transmission mechanism that regulates plant growth. Its research focuses on how plants grow in response to varying developmental signals such as phytohormones, proteins, nutrients, stress and surroundings in order to identify ways to coordinate the growth of plants.
The Lab cultivates tomatoes, potatoes, tobacco and other plants as well as Arabidopsis, a model plant for the research. Fully equipped with state-of-art facilities for molecular biology, cell biology, biochemistry, genomics, and proteomics, the researchers are taking a combinatorial approach to studying the plants. The Crispr-Cas9 – known as “genetic scissors” and honored with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020 – are one of the technologies widely used at the Lab.
Novel developmental signals discovered through plant research can be applied to a variety of areas, including but not limited to agriculture and drug development. Professor Hwang’s research team became the world’s first to identify ways to promote the metabolism of plants to enable them to bear more fruit and produce larger seeds. These research findings were published and featured on the cover of the internationally-acclaimed Nature Plants in 2018. The team discovered proteins involved in the development of phloem, which serves as an energy transfer pathway within plants, and succeeded in leveraging this knowledge to increase the size and weight of plant seeds by up to 40%.
Currently, there is relatively a small number of research labs in Korea that specialize in plant research. When asked why the team was engaged in a research relatively less noteworthy in the bioscience field, they countered with the following question, “If a billionaire dies, would it be due to cancer or starvation?” This response goes to reveal their pride in being scientists who contribute to bringing food to the world’s table, rather than studying the already well-funded cancer research that benefits from the enormous interest of capitalists. Instead of joining the masses in searching for cures to human diseases, the Development Signaling Network Lab is taking the road less traveled to explore sustainable means of progress for our planet and humanity.
Head of Lab
POSTECH Biotech Center 306~308