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Jill Farrant | Plant Stress Lab

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Professor Jill M. Farrant
NRF SARChI Chair
E-mail:jill.farrant@uct.ac.za | Telephone: +27 21 650 4496 | Facsimile: +27 21 650 1861

Prof. Jill Farrant with Myrothamnus in the WaterbergProfessor Jill Farrant is a leader in the field of plant responses to water deficit stress (drought/desiccation tolerance), receiving international recognition for her research. She was the African/Arab States recipient of the 2012 L'Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science (download the press release), one of only five scientists worldwide who were selected by an international jury as "researchers who will have a major impact on society and help light the way to the future". Subsequently,she has been invited to give talks and lectures on the international stage (TED talk, 2015; TEDx Cape Town, 2015; BioVision, 2013; the prestigious Falling Walls conference in Berlin,2013 (see below for videos), has been awarded and nominated for numerous awards and is a fellow of the The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS). She has been awarded and maintained an A-rating by the National Research Foundation (the first female researcher at UCT ever to receive such a rating) and was made a member of the University of Cape Town College of Fellows. After holding the UCT Research Chair of Molecular Plant Physiology of Desiccation Tolerance for several years, she was awarded the NRF SARChI Chair in 2015 which she holds at the Molecular and Cell Biology Department at UCT. 
Also see Wikipedia for more information.
 
Research

Drought is the greatest threat to world agriculture. Due to global warming, increased and extended droughts are predicted in Africa (inter alia), presenting a threat to food security.  Current crops do not tolerate much water loss, survival being contingent on mechanisms that retain water (technically drought resistance) which fail under severe drought. Resurrection plants (RPs) are tolerant of extreme water loss (i.e. desiccation tolerant), and Southern African RPs can also survive extreme heat. My group has systematically investigated the mechanisms whereby RPs survive these extreme conditions, with the view of introducing such characteristics into crops for improved drought tolerance and ultimately food security in the face of climate change. 
Desiccation tolerance (DT) is a complex phenomenon involving multiple genes, the products of which interact in complex ways to facilitate subcellular and thus tissue survival of water deficit.  The aim of our research is to gain a comprehensive fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of DT in order to make informed decisions as to what is required for improved water deficit tolerance in crops.  Thus molecular characterisation of key changes associated with DT is followed using an “omics” approach in which high-throughput technologies are used for identification of transcripts, proteins and metabolites associated with drying to various critical water contents, and recovery therefrom.  Biochemical, biophysical and physiological studies are used, as appropriate, to ascertain functional significance of putative protectants. 

Media
BBC The Genius Behind Drought Tolerant Crops - Watch on Vimeo
 

100 World Class South Africans (City Press, Sept 2013)

Piante "Lazzaro" contro la siccità (Le Scienze, Jan 2014)

How plants come back from the dead (Wired, 3 Jan 2014)

La científica que estudia el secreto de la resurrección (BBC Mundo, 22 Dec 2013)

Jill Farrant: The Resurrection Plant - and Woman (Daily Maveick, 12 April 2012)
Selected publications
  1. Radermacher AL, Du Toit SF, Farrant JM (2019) Desiccation-Driven Senescence in the Resurrection Plant Xerophyta schlechteri (Baker) N.L. Menezes: Comparison of Anatomical, Ultrastructural, and Metabolic Responses Between Senescent and Non-Senescent Tissues. Frontiers in Plant Science, 10. doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2019.01396
  2. Artur MAS, Rienstra J, Dennis TJ, Farrant JM, Ligterink W, Hilhorst H (2019) Structural Plasticity of Intrinsically Disordered LEA Proteins from Xerophyta schlechteri Provides Protection In Vitro and In Vivo. Frontiers in Plant Science, 10. doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2019.01272 
  3. Artur MAS, Costa MC, Farrant JM, Hilhorst HWM (2019). Genome-level responses to the environment: plant desiccation tolerance. Emerging Topics in Life Sciences (2019) https://doi.org/10.1042/ETLS20180139.
  4. Bentley J, Moore JP, Farrant JM (2019) Metabolomic profiling of the desiccation-tolerant medicinal shrub Myrothamnus flabellifolia indicates phenolic variability across its natural habitat: Implications for tea and cosmetics production. Molecules, 24. doi.org/10.3390/molecules24071240
  5. Bentley J, Moore JP, Farrant JM (2019) Metabolomics as a complement to phylogenetics for assessing intraspecific boundaries in the desiccation-tolerant medicinal shrub Myrothamnus flabellifolia (Myrothamnaceae). Phytochemistry, 159: 127-136. doi.org/10.1016/j.phytochem.2018.12.016
  6. Charuvi D, Nevo R, Aviv-Sharon E, Gal A, Kiss V, Shimoni E, Farrant JM, Kirchhoff H, Reich Z (2019) Chloroplast breakdown during dehydration of a homoiochlorophyllous resurrection plant proceeds via senescence-like processes. Environmental and Experimental Botany, 157: 100-111. doi.org/10.1016/j.envexpbot.2018.09.027
  7. López-Pozo M, Flexas J, Gulías J, Carriquí M, Nadal M, Perera-Castro AV, Clemente-Moreno MJ, Gago J, Núñez-Olivera E, Martínez-Abaigar J, Hernández A, Artetxe U, Bentley J, Farrant JM, Verhoeven A, García-Plazaola JI, Fernández-Marín B (2019) A field portable method for the semi-quantitative estimation of dehydration tolerance of photosynthetic tissues across distantly related land plants Physiologia Plantarum. doi.org/10.1111/ppl.12890 (In press).
  8. Hilhorst HMW and Farrant JM (2018). Plant desiccation tolerance: A survival strategy with exceptional prospects for climate smart agriculture. Annual Plants Reviews online 1, 1–27 doi.org/10.1002/9781119312994.apr0637.
  9. Hilhorst HWM, Costa MCD, Farrant JM (2018) A Footprint of Plant Desiccation Tolerance. Does It Exist? Molecular Plant, 11: 1003-1005. doi.org/10.1016/j.molp.2018.07.001.
  10. Tshabuse F, Farrant JM, Humbert L, Moura D, Rainteau D, Espinasse C, Idrissi A, Merlier F, Acket S, Rafudeen MS, Thomasset B, Ruelland E (2018) Glycerolipid analysis during desiccation and recovery of the resurrection plant Xerophyta humilis (Bak) Dur and Schinz. Plant Cell and Environment, 41: 533-547. doi.org/10.1111/pce.13063
  11. Costa MC, Artur MAS, Maia J, Jonkheer E, Derks MFL, Nijveen H, Williams B, Mundree SG, Jiménez-Gómez JM, Hesselink T, Schijlen EGWM, Ligterink W, Oliver MJ, Farrant JM, Hilhorst HMW (2017) A ‘footprint’ of desiccation tolerance in the genome of the resurrection plant Xerophyta viscosa. Nature Plant 3, article number 17038| DOI: 10.1038/nplants.2017.38 | www.nature.com/natureplants.
  12. Costa MC, Cooper K, Hilhorst HMW, Farrant JM (2017) Orthodox seeds and resurrection plants: two of a kind? Plant Physiology. DOI:10.1104/pp.17.00760.
  13. Kamies R, Farrant JM Tadele Z, Cannarozzi G, Rafudeen MS (2017). A proteomic approach to investigate the drought response in the orphan crop Eragrostis tef. Journal of Proteome Research (in press).
  14. Nyau V, Prakash S., Rodrigues J and Farrant JM (2017). Domestic cooking effects of Bambara Groundnuts and Common Beans in the Antioxidant properties and Polyphenol Profiles. Journal of Food Research 6: 24-39. DOI: 10.5539/jfr.v6np24.
  15. Nyau V, Prakash S, Rodrigues J and Farrant J (2017). Profiling of Phenolic Compounds in Sprouted Common Beans and Bambara Groundnuts Journal of Food Research 6; 74-82. E-ISSN 1927-0895
  16. Barak S and Farrant JM (2016). Extremophyte adaptations to salt and water deficit stress. Functional Plant Biology 43: v-x. http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/FPv43n7_FO
  17. Zia A, Berkley JW, Oung HMO, Chavuri D, Jahns P, Cousins AB, Farrant JM, Reich Z, and Kirchoff H (2016). Protection of the photosynthetic apparatus against dehydration stress in the resurrection plant Craterostigma pumilim. The Plant Journal 87: 664-680. doi:10.1111/tpj.13227
  18. Costa MC, Farrant JM, Oliver MJ, Ligerink W, Buitink J and Hilhorst HMW (2016). Key genes involved in desiccation tolerance and dormancy across life forms. Plant Science 251:162-168 doi:10.1016/j.plantsci.2016.02.001.
  19. Ruelland E and Farrant JM (2015). Plant signalling mechanisms in response to the environment. Environmental and Experimental Botany 114: 1-3.
  20. Woodenburg WR, Pammenter NW, Farrant JM, Driouich A, Berjak P (2015)  Embryo cell wall properties in relation to development and desiccation in the recalcitrant-seeded Encephalartos natalensis (Zamiaceae) Dyer and Verdoorn. Protoplasma, 252: 245-258.
  21. Nyau V, Rodridgues J and Farrant J (2015). Antioxidant activities of Bambara Groundnuts as Assessed by FRAP and DPPH assays. American Journal of Food and Nutrition, 3: 7-11.
  22. Nyau V, Prakash S, Rodrigues J and Farrant J (2015). HPLC-PDA-ESI-MS indentification of Polyphenolic Phytochemicals in different market classes of common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.). International Journal of Biochemistry Research & Review 8: 1-11.
  23. Nyau V, Prakash S, Rodrigues J and Farrant JM (2015). Identification of nutraceutical phenolic compounds in bambara groundnuts (Vigna subterranea L. Verdc) by HPLC-PDA-ESI-MS.  British journal of applied science and technology, 6: 77-85.
  24. Moore JP and Farrant JM (2015) Editorial Current advances and challenges in understanding plant desiccation tolerance. Frontiers in Plant Science 6: article 768. DOI: 10.3389/fpls.2015.00768.
  25. Farrant JM, Dace HJW, Cooper K, Hilgart A, Peton N, Mundree SG, Rafudeen MS and Thomson JA (2015). A molecular physiological review of vegetative desiccation tolerance in the resurrection plant Xerophyta viscosa (Baker) with reference to biotechnological application for the production of drought tolerant cereals. Planta, 242: 407-426. DOI 10.1007/s00425-015-2320-6
  26. Charuvi D, Nevo R, Shimoni E, Navey L, Zia A, Farrant JM, Kirchoff H, Reich Z (2015). Photoprotection conferred by changes in photosynthetic protein levels and organization during dehydration of a homoiochlorophyllous resurrection plant. Plant Physiology 167: 1554-1565. DOI: 10.1104/pp:11425594.
  27. Plancot B, Vanier G, Maire F, Bardor M, Lerouge P, Farrant JM, Moore JP, Driouich A, Vicre-Gibouin M, Afonso C, Loutelier-Bourhis C (2014).  Structural characterization of arabinoxylans from two African plant species Eragrostis nindensis and Eragrostis tef by MALDI-MS, ESI-MS, IM-MS and GC-MS.  Rapid communications in Mass Spectrometry 28: 908–916.
Collaborations

Dr MS Rafudeen.  Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Cape Town, South Africa.
Dr JP Moore.  Institute of Wine Biotechnology, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Prof. Ndiko Ludidi, Dept of Biotechnology, University of Western Cape, South Africa. 
Dr J Buitink. Institut de Recherche en Horticulture et Semences, INRA, Université d’Angers, France.
Dr HWM Hilhorst, Plant Physiology, Wageningen University and Research, The Netherlands. 
Prof SG Mundree. Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities, Queensland University of Technology, Australia.
Prof MJ Oliver. Agricultural Research Services, United States Department of Agriculture, Missouri, USA.
Dr E Ruelland. Institut d'écologie et des sciences de l' environement de Paris CNRS, Université Paris-Est Créteil, France.
Prof. Ziv Reich. Biomolecular Sciences, Wiezmann Institute of Science, Israel.
Dr Robert VanBuren. Michigan State University, USA.
Dr Vincent Nyau, University of Zambia, Zambia.  

Lab members

Joanne Bentley - Postdoctoral research fellow | I research the metabolomic profiling and phylogenetic structuring of the resurrection plant Myrothamnus flabellifolia, with a particular focus on the phenolic components and the metabolic state in the field versus greenhouse conditions. Green chemistry is used to optimize the extraction of phenolics.

Mariam Awlia - Postdoctoral research fellow | Salt tolerance in desiccation tolerant plants

Keren Cooper - Chief Scientific Officer | Lab manager - contact keren.cooper@uct.ac.za

Amogelang Tshego Gill - PhD | While several ferns are desiccation tolerant, the mechanisms employed by them are largely unknown. The resurrection fern Mohria caffrorum has fronds that are desiccation tolerant in the dry, summer months and are desiccation-sensitive in the rainy, winter months. I investigate this interesting phenomenon using physiology and proteomics tools.

Astrid Lillie Radermacher - PhD | I am investigating drought-induced senescence in the resurrection plant species Xerophyta viscosa. During desiccation, this plant withstands the loss of 95% subcellular water with minimal loss of tissue. This project aims to understand how senescence is prevented during drought, using a transcriptomics and biotechnological approach. 

Chrissie Madden - PhD | My research aims at characterizing the transcriptome of an African resurrection grass Eragrostis nindensis under water-stress conditions to understand desiccation tolerance and which suites of genes are critical for cell protection and repair under extreme water stress, focusing on how senescence pathways respond in this extremophile.

Jean Felistas Ntuli - PhD | Crops face simultaneous stresses and this project aims to identify and fully characterise the molecular elements (genes, DNA, RNA – transcriptome & protein – transcription factors) that paly a dual role in plant defence for both drought tolerance and resistance to fungal pathogens. Modelling resurrection plant Xerophyta viscosa to improve Maize crops. 

Farrah Kahn - PhD | Functional analysis of leaf, root and rhizome tissue of the desiccation-tolerant fern Anemia caffrorum

Boitumelo Marope - PhD | Investigation into the salt tolerance of the resurrection plant, Eragrostis nindensis, and cross-talk with desiccation-related responses. 

Mehafo Nepembe - PhD | Characterization of GDP-mannose epimerase in Xerophyta viscosa.

Arno Duvenhage - MSc | My research focuses on the roots metabolome of the resurrection species Eragrostis nindensis. Moreover, I investigate how the soil microbiome is altered by desiccation and rehydration in laboratory-grown plants; and if microbes from the field can be detected years after the plants have been collected.

Armin Rezaei - MSc | Investigation of the metabolite content of various cellular compartments in resurrection plants.  

Robyn Craythorne - MSc | Investigation of late embryogenesis abundant (LEA) protein function in the resurrection plant Xerophyta schlechteri by deletion of K-segments. 

Francois du Toit - MSc | Functional studies of the resurrection plant Craterostigma pumilum.