Recognizing Plant Physiology authors: María José Sánchez-Barrena

María José Sánchez-Barrena, first author of Recognition and activation of the plant AKT1 potassium channel by the kinase CIPK23

Current Position: Associate Scientist, Department of Crystallography and Structural Biology, Institute “Rocasolano”, Spanish National Research Council, Madrid, Spain

Education: PhD Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain

Non-scientific Interests: music, hiking, scuba diving

Brief bio: My research interest is focused in understanding Ca2+ mediated signalling processes on the membrane at molecular level. During my scientific career,  I have carried out a multidisciplinary approach combining protein crystallography with other biochemical, biophysical and molecular techniques to unravel the  molecular determinants of plant cell response to abiotic stress. Together with Dr. Armando Albert,  we have characterized the families of CBL Ca2+ sensors and CIPK protein kinases. During the past 15 years, we have been able to determine how Ca2+ binding to the CBL proteins trigger the interaction and activation of CIPKs, which in turn phosphorylate and regulate the activity of different channels and transporters, which finely tune the concentration of different ions, such as Na+ and K+, in the cytosol. The high-resolution data, together with our results on the molecular mechanism of action and the interplay between the different components, have allowed to understand specificity in these families of highly conserved proteins that warrants the generation of a proper cellular response. These data may represent relevant biotechnological tool for the generation of plant crops with enhanced performance under high Na+ levels, K+ nutrient limitation, or other environmental stresses.