Dr Rucha Karnik
- Royal Society University Research Fellow (Institute of Molecular Cell & Systems Biology)
I obtained my bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry (St Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad) and master’s in biotechnology from the Gujarat University in India, earned with a 1st rank in the master’s programme. I then spent over six years in the pharma-biotech industry where I worked on research, marketing and management aspects of various projects including development of recombinant protein-based diagnostic kits, human therapeutics, biosimilars and the agro-biotech business. Drawn to fundamental research in human disease, I left the industry and moved to the UK to pursue my PhD at the University of Leeds, in the Institute of Membrane and Systems Biology. I was awarded fellowships from the prestigious Overseas Research Students Awards Scheme (ORSAS) sponsored by the British government, the Tetley & Lupton Scholarship and the International Research Scholarship from the University of Leeds for my PhD. At Leeds, I investigated membrane traffic of human K+ channels and its implications for health and disease. Following a short term at the research division of Aptuscan, a University of Leeds spin-off company, I found my calling in plant sciences.
For my postdoc, I joined Professor Mike Blatt’s group at the University of Glasgow (2011) to study fundamental plant membrane biology. I have since pursued closely related themes of membrane transport, regulation of membrane traffic and cellular homeostasis, developing a fundamental interest in molecular mechanisms of vesicle traffic and its coordination with transport, which are critical for plant physiology.
As a Royal Society University Research Fellow (2016-2025), the University of Glasgow continues to be my home. In my lab we address the overarching question 'How do plants grow?'. I am intersted in elucidating the co-ordination between membrane traffic and ion transport in plants and its impact on plant growth and development in response to pathogens and climate change.
Outside of the lab, I enjoy activities for public engagement with plant science. I drive the project Sci-seedlets which brings together a cross-disciplinary research team, artists, school teachers and members of public to develop plant science educational resources for classrooms.
Key words that comprehend Karnik lab research interests: plant growth, membrane transport, stomatal development, plant pathogenesis, membrane traffic, climate-change, CO2 sensing.
Current Research Projects
Hormone-regulated membrane traffic in plants
Plant cells have a rigid cell wall in addition to the plasma membrane, therefore morphogenesis requires generation of turgor pressure to drive cell expansion. Transport of osmotically active solutes across the plasma membrane and their accumulation within the cell, creates turgor for cell expansion. Plasma membrane H+-ATPases are proton pumps which energise this membrane transport. They generate strong electrochemical gradients by pumping protons out of the cell which powers nutrient uptake, regulates intracellular pH and supports plant growth. Plant hormones, especially auxin, stimulate growth by enhancing proton transport. Decades ago scientists formulated the ‘acid-growth’ hypothesis to explain auxin-induced growth; proposing that increased proton pumping acidifies the cell wall which alters its plasticity to allow expansion. Auxin-induced growth is also associated with a rapid increase in the number of the proton pumps at the plasma membrane, and delivery of the H+-ATPases to the plasma membrane via membrane traffic is vital to driving cell expansion. Yet, to date, very little is known about this traffic and its regulation. We investigate mechanisms of auxin-regulated H+-ATPase traffic and its co-ordination with spatial-regulation of proteins that affect H+-ATPase activation. We have discovered unusual roles for a secretory SNARE in regulating H+-ATPase endocytosis from the plasma membrane that dictates auxin-regulated plant growth.
1. Xia L, Mar Marques-Bueno M, Bruce CG, Karnik R. Unusual Roles of Secretory SNARE SYP132 in Plasma Membrane H+-ATPase Traffic and Vegetative Plant Growth. Plant Physiology 2019;180(2):837-58.
2. Xia L, Mar Marques-Bueno M, Karnik R. Trafficking SNARE SYP132 Partakes in Auxin-Associated Root Growth. Plant Physiology 2020;182(4):1836-40
A Novel Set of SNARE Partners Facilitating Bacterial Pathogen Defence
Plant microbial pathogens destroy some 15% of crop production worldwide, inflicting major agricultural and socio-economic losses. Thus, understanding plant immunity is at the centre of efforts to mitigate the challenges in food production facing human society in the coming decades. Although plants have evolved defence systems, immunity comes at a cost to plant growth; crop bred to maximize growth-related traits, by contrast, often compromise on defense. To strategically maximize plant disease resistance, knowledge of the mechanisms underlying plant defences is vital to minimize reductions in yield.
Stomatal pores on the leaf surface exchange gas and water with the environment and are primary entry points for microbial pathogen. The initial defence against bacterial pathogen is stomatal closure, but pathogens commonly manipulate these defences and force stomatal opening. At a cellular level, these manipulations include commandeering ion transporters and their regulatory proteins to prevent stomata closure. Microbial pathogens also hijack cellular vesicle traffic to suppress secretion of defence-related molecules to the cell wall. Secretion at the plant plasma membrane is mediated by so-called SNARE proteins that assemble to drive the final stages of membrane vesicle fusion and deliver the vesicle contents to the cell wall and space outside the cell. Yet, the knowledge of molecular basis of these processes during plant pathogenesis is sparse and virtually nothing is known of their coordination. We use techniques in cell biology, proteomics, biochemistry, protein-protein interaction analysis and plant physiology for our studies to understand mechanisms of membrane traffic influencing bacterial pathogenesis.
Recent research in Karnik lab has uncovered that regulation of a trafficking SNARE is at the centre of mechanisms intersecting plant growth and immune responses. We have found that the SNARE binds with plasma membrane H+-ATPases and drives divergent trafficking of the proton pump and antimicrobial PR proteins at the plasma membrane. We develop research tools to aid this research.
1. Baena G, Xia L, Waghmare S, Karnik R. SNARE SYP132 mediates divergent trafficking of H+-ATPase AHA1 and antimicrobial PR1 during pathogenesis. Plant Physiology 28 March 2022
2. Zhang B, Xia L, Zhang Y, Wang H, Karnik R. Tri-SUS: a yeast split-ubiquitin assay to examine protein interactions governed by a third binding partner. Plant Physiology 2021;185(2):285-9.
Molecular Mechanisms Underpinning Stomatal Development and Plant Water Use
Stomata are microscopic pores that facilitate plant exchanges with the environment. Each stoma is surrounded by two guard cells, that undergo dynamic changes in cell volume resulting in stomatal movements. Stomata open for uptake of CO2 for photosynthesis and close to prevent transpirational water loss, thus enforcing a major influence on the water and carbon cycles of the world (Lawson and Blatt, 2014; Jezek and Blatt, 2017). Regulation of stomata is also at the core of stomatal defence mechanisms that dictate plant health.
Environmental factors such as CO2, light intensity and microbial pathogens as well as endogenous cues such as plant hormones dynamically regulate stomatal behaviours including movements, density and patterning (Hetherington and Woodward, 2003; Bowman, 2011; Keenan et al., 2013). Stomatal responses to environmental stressors frequently transcend physiological and developmental timescales, allowing plants to address critical environmental factors both through short-term physiology and longer-term developmental patterns (Lawson and Blatt, 2014; Jezek and Blatt, 2017). Understanding mechanisms that control stomatal behaviours across timescales is of fundamental importance for strategic development of crops with enhanced productivity and immunity and reduced water use (Lawson and Blatt, 2014; Baena et al., 2022).
A large body of research data on stomata relates transpiration and carbon assimilation as a consequence of stomatal regulation for opening and closure under short time intervals (Lawson and Blatt, 2014). It is known too that stomatal behaviours are affected by stomatal patterns and clusters which affect aspects of stomatal movements in relation to surrounding cells and cavity (Rudall et al., 2018). Even so, much remains unknown for the molecular mechanisms driving stomatal clustering and their consequences for plant physiology.
This project uses Begonia species plants as models for resolving the molecular mechanisms dictating stomatal development, patterning. It draws on recent findings in the lab (Xia et al., 2019; Baena et al., 2022) that demonstrate the role for membrane trafficking SNARE proteins in stomatal regulation, and utilises the existing knowledge of genes associated with stomatal patterning from the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. The focus is on identifying and investigating the homologous genes expressing proteins involved in membrane traffic and stomatal biogenesis in different Begonia species.
Collaboration: Kidner laboratory, University of Edinburgh, Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgy, Glasgow Botanics.
Plant Memories and Forgetfulness: Connexions with CO2 Perception and Responses
Land plants must constantly adjust and adapt to their environment. Environmental fluctuations often culminate in stress for plant growth, disrupt carbon and water balance, and affect crop productivity and fresh-water use. For example, elevated carbon dioxide concentration in air is a major consequence of global climate change. Increasing atmospheric CO2 is predicted to rise from pre-industrial level of 280 μmol mol-1, approaching 900μmol mol-1 by the end of the 21st century. Plants assimilate CO2 through microscopic pores called ‘stomata’ for photosynthesis and carbon fixation. Plants respond to increases in CO2 concentration in the air by adjusting stomatal movements and over longer times by altering stomatal density and patterning on the leaf surface. How the perception of elevated CO2 signals connects stomatal movements and long-term development remains poorly understood. We study CO2-sensitive trafficking machinery in plants and its influence on physiology and developmental programmes in plant stomata. This research theme stems from need to address fundamental questions in stomatal biology which will generate advanced platforms for future cropimprovement strategies. We use also structure-function analysis to elucidate new SNAREregulatory proteins using modern proteomics and structural approaches to develop an understanding of CO2-sensitive traffic and its regulation in plant stomata. Knowledge gained will enhance our understanding of the impacts of global warming and elevated CO2 on land plants in the 21st century.
Public Engagement with Plant Science
Modern day Plant Science is crucial to solving global challenges of climate change, ensuring food and water security for the future. I drives the Sci-Seedlets project developing resources designed to inspire engagement with plant sciences and nurture plant science educational outcomes for school children. Sci-Seedlets are developed by a team of plant scientists at the University of Glasgow and computer scientists at Lancaster University, working with non-scientist members of public, artists and school teachers. The project is funded by the Royal Society, University of Glasgow and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, UK.
Outreach internships are available 4-6 weeks each year -Applications are accepted all year round
Grants and Awards listed are those received whilst working with the University of Glasgow.
- Elucidating Novel Mechanisms For CO2 - Sensing in Plants
2021 - 2022
The Royal Society
2021 - 2023
- SNARE endocytosis and secretory vesicle reuse in plant growth-defense trade offs
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
2019 - 2022
- How Do Plants Fight Microbes?- The Defence Song
The Royal Society
2019 - 2019
- Proton Transport Modulators - Spatial Regulation and Effects on Plant Physiology
The Royal Society
2017 - 2021
- Hormone-Regulated Membrane Traffic and Plant Morphogenesis
The Royal Society
2016 - 2022
Karnik lab currently hosts PhD students funded by the Royal Society, China Scholarship Council and ML Begoina Trust.
Currently accepting applications for PhD studies October 2022/ January 2023 start.
For detailed information please visit:
Watch this space for funded postions in the future!!!
Summer research internships are available for 6-8 weeks - Applications are accepted Feb-March each year.
PG & UG Projects
Karnik Lab hosts PGT, Honours Projects each year, focused around core research interests of the lab.
Level 4: Honours Project Supervisor
MSc. Biotechnology assessor & project supervisor
MSc. Food Security assessor & project supervisor
MSc. Food Security, MSc Biotechnology & Level 4 BIOL5312, BIOL5213, BIOL4110
Plant Biotechnology Platforms and Research Tools
Level 3 Biomolecular Sciences Bioenergetics Lectures
Professional activities & recognition
- 2016 - 2025: Royal Society University Research Fellowship
Grant committees & research advisory boards
- 2020 - 2022: Royal Society, Royal Society Hooke Committee