2022/01/03 | Research | Environment & Matter

Adapting to the rise in temperature of our planet

Biochemist Rodrigo Siqueira Reis studies how RNA structures function in the adaptation of plants to higher temperatures. The aim is to gain a better basic understanding of how plants adapt to the circumstances of climate change.

Interview: Maura Widmer

The funding instruments Eccellenza and PRIMA of the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF enable highly qualified researchers to implement their projects within the framework of an assistant professorship at a Swiss university. In a series of interviews, we present six newly awarded researchers and their projects.

You have received an "Eccellenza Professorial Fellowship" from the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF. What does it mean to you to receive this Fellowship?
The Eccellenza Professorial Fellowship is highly competitive and provides good support for a new Principal Investigator to establish an independent research group. For me, receiving an Eccellenza-Fellowship was a major validation of my work and proposed project, which gives me the confidence that the team that I will lead at the University of Bern will be on the right path for great discoveries.

You have been selected from the SNF for your research project « Plant perception and adaption to elevated temperatures through changes in RNA structure». What is the project about?
My work has always been focused on understanding how RNAs, ribonucleic acids, work. Most of us know that RNAs are encoded by genes in the DNA, and that RNAs can encode for proteins. RNAs are molecules that can also fold into structures. Our understanding of what these structures do is very recent. It is already clear though that RNA structures are dynamic and can regulate protein synthesis, among many other processes. My group will study the role of RNA structures in plant adaptation to elevated temperatures. I’ve chosen this project because plants are exposed to temperature fluctuations on the daily and seasonal basis, and temperature is a major determinant of RNA structures. It is possible that evolution has selected RNA structures that are essential for plant adaptation to increased environmental temperatures.

What made you chose the University of Bern for your Project?
The University of Bern is a central hub in Switzerland in the study of RNAs, which is the main research topic of my project. At the Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS), my lab will be immersed in a very dynamic and exciting environment, which will likely spring new ideas and help us make our work more broadly relevant.

What is the social relevance of your project?
My research project has the potential to unveil critical tools used by plants to adapt and survive in warmer environments, such as those produced by global warming. This fundamental knowledge will be critical for our better understanding of basic plant biology and might help us produce plants better adapted to our warming planet.

ABOUT Rodrigo Siqueira Reis

Dr. Rodrigo Siqueira Reis received his doctorate in Sydney, Australia, in 2015. He then moved to Switzerland for his postdoc at the University of Lausanne (2015-2020), where he studied the role of RNA structure in translational regulation. Dr. Reis will join the University of Bern as Eccellenza Assistant Professor in 2022 to study plant adaptation to elevated temperatures, with focus on the role of RNA structures.

SNSF Eccellenza Professorial Fellowships

SNSF Eccellenza Professorial Fellowships are aimed at highly qualified researchers who aspire to a permanent professorship. Eccellenza supports them in achieving their goal by allowing them to lead a generously funded research project as an assistant professor with their team at a Swiss higher education institution. Eccellenza covers the grantee's salary at the local rates applicable to assistant professorships and project funds of up to 1,000,000 Swiss francs for a five-year period. In 2021, the Eccellenza program selected four researchers at the University of Bern. Eccellenza deckt das Salär der Beitragsempfängerin oder des Beitragsempfängers auf dem Niveau einer lokalen Assistenzprofessur und Projektmittel von bis zu 1'000'000 Franken für fünf Jahre ab. Im Jahr 2021 wurden vom Eccellenza-Programm vier Forschende an der Universität Bern ausgewählt.


SNF PRIMA grants are aimed at excellent women researchers who show a high potential for obtaining a professorship. PRIMA grantees conduct an independent research project with their own team at least at the group leader level within a Swiss research institution. PRIMA grants cover the grantee's salary and project costs for a five-year period. With this competitive grant, PRIMA grantees can carve out a name for themselves and take the next step up the academic career ladder: a professorship. If a PRIMA grantee is appointed as a professor in Switzerland during the funding period, the remaining amount of the PRIMA grant will be transferred to the new place of work as research funds. In 2021, the PRIMA program selected two researchers at the University of Bern.

About the author

Maura Widmer is an intern at the Communication & Marketing Department of the University of Bern.