Developmental and Cell Biology of Plants

Jiri Friml

Plants and animals live different lives. Whereas animals typically react with a behavioral response, plants have acquired a highly adaptive development that tailors their phenotype to the environment. Plant development is therefore characterized by a remarkable adaptability to different environmental conditions. In terms of development, plants can do much more than animals: They initiate and grow new organs even during their post-embryonic development; they have permanent populations of stem cells throughout their whole life-span and they are able to change their direction of growth depending on external stimuli.

Many of these unique developmental events are mediated by the plant hormone auxin. Auxin is unique among plant signaling molecules. Unlike others, it is transported in a polar fashion through plant tissues and forms concentration gradients that can integrate endogenous signals as well as signals from the environment. Auxin transport is driven by the action of transport proteins, including efflux carriers of the PIN protein family. The localization of PIN transporters within cells determines the direction of auxin flow and thus represents a mechanism which can also define asymmetric auxin distribution within tissues. The auxin transport system thus provides positional and directional information for many aspects of adaptive plant development.

Our research has strongly interdisciplinary character. We conduct physiological, developmental biological and cell biological studies combining approaches of molecular biology, molecular genetics, biochemistry and mathematical modeling. The main areas of our research encompass:

  1. Polar auxin transport
  2. Cell polarity and polar targeting
  3. Endocytosis and recycling
  4. Non-transcriptional mechanisms of signaling

In the course of our studies we obtained fundamental insights into mechanisms governing plant development. They also show how signals from the environment are integrated into endogenous signaling networks and translated into changes in plant growth and development. Many of our discoveries are relevant for agricultural applications. Our results provide a conceptual possibility to manipulate developmental processes including plant architecture and fruit set and ripening. Manipulating root growth and branching can generate root systems that are more suitable for arid and low nutrition soils.

Jiri Friml
Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria)
Am Campus 1
A – 3400 Klosterneuburg


CV and publication list

ERC grant Jiri Friml PSDP

Alexandra Mally

Tel: +43 (0)2243 9000-1105


  • Mohamad Abbas, Postdoc
  • Maciej Adamowski, PhD Student
  • Xu Chen, Postdoc
  • Matyas Fendrych, Postdoc
  • Jaroslav Michalko, Postdoc
  • Gergely Molnar, Postdoc
  • Madhumita Narasimha, PhD Student
  • Petra Novakova, PhD Student
  • Tomas Prat, PhD Student
  • Hana Rakusova, PhD Student
  • Yuliya Salanenka, Postdoc
  • Petr Valosek, Technician
  • Daniel von Wangenheim, Postdoc
  • Saiko Yoshida, Postdoc

Selected Publications

  • Robert HS, Grones P, Stepanova AN, Robles LM, Lokerse AS, Alonso JM, Weijers D, Friml J. (2013) Local Auxin Sources Orient the Apical-Basal Axis in Arabidopsis Embryos. Curr Biol, Nov 25. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Tanaka H, Kitakura S, Rakusová H, Uemura T, Feraru MI, De Rycke R, Robert S, Kakimoto T, Friml J. (2013):  Cell Polarity and Patterning by PIN Trafficking through Early Endosomal Compartments in Arabidopsis thaliana. PLoS Genet. 9(5):e1003540
  • Baster P, Robert S, Kleine-Vehn J, Vanneste S, Kania U, Grunewald W, De Rybel B, Beeckman T, Friml J. (2013): SCF(TIR1/AFB)-auxin signalling regulates PIN vacuolar trafficking and auxin fluxes during root gravitropism. EMBO J. 32(2):260-74


Since 2013 Professor, IST Austria
2007-2012 Full Professor, University of Ghent, Belium
2006 Full Professor, University of Göttingen, Germany
2002-2005 Grouleader, Habilitation in Genetics, University of Tübingen, Germany
2002 PhD, Biochemistry, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic
2000 PhD, Biology, University of Cologne, Germany

Selected Distinctions

2012 EMBO Gold Medal
2011 AAAS Fellow
2010 EMBO Member
2010 Körber European Science Award
2010 Olchemim Scientific Award
2005 Heinz Maier Leibnitz Prize
2004 EMBO Young Investigator Award
2000 Max Planck Society Award: The Otto Hahn Medal