Maria Hrmova

Professor Maria Hrmova


School of Agriculture, Food and Wine

Faculty of Sciences

Eligible to supervise Masters and PhD - email supervisor to discuss availability.

Research in my laboratory is focused on membrane transporters and transcription factors involved in abiotic stress tolerance of plants. Our interests are also centred on enzymes that participate in formation of plant cell surface structures. Further, we have created artificial membrane environments mimicking native ones using bicelles, liposomes, lipodiscs and nanodiscs, and used them for functional reconstitution of membrane proteins produced through cell-based and cell-free synthesis platforms. The goals of our projects are to address the fundamental questions as to how proteins mediate their biological functions. The new knowledge is expected to serve for designing of engineered proteins that work optimally under a variety of abiotic stress factors.

My expertise is in the multidisciplinary field of structural biology. I research the molecular mechanisms of plant proteins in the three main areas:

TRANSPORT PROTEINS INVOLVED IN BORON TOXICITY TOLERANCE AND SALINITY - My laboratory is focussed on structural and functional analyses of plant borate and HKT Na+/K+ transporters, and aquaporins. By combining in silico and in vitro methods, we discovered that borate transporters mediate Na+-dependent anion transport and exhibit channel-like characteristics. This work was extended into an innovative approach of measuring permeation of transporters using electrochemical impedance spectroscopy. We designed a model for Na+-exclusion in rice, and explained that variations in tolerance can be explained by transcription, alternative splicing, and a HKT transporter structure. Further, we develop protein production methods for plant membrane proteins based on eukaryotic cell-free synthesis, and create the membrane mimicking environments of bicelles, liposomes, lipodiscs and nanodiscs for membrane protein reconstitution. We have reconstituted membrane proteins in these environments, and imaged them through atomic force microscopy and small angle X-ray scattering using synchrotron radiation.

TRANSCRIPTION FACTORS INVOLVED IN THE REGULATION OF PLANT RESPONSES TO DROUGHT - We perform extensive molecular modelling studies of transcription factors in complex with DNA cis-elements, such as bZIP, HDZip, DREB, ERF, NFY-YB, CBF and MYB. We described the molecular mechanisms of salt-sensitive SOS3 and lipid-binding proteins, and defensins. We engineered wheat transcription factor variants and in breakthrough genetic science using transgenic plants, we showed that these mutations change DNA recognition and plant responses to abiotic stresses, such as drought and frost. Some of our work was highlighted on the front covers of Plant Biotechnology Journal, Plant Moleculer Biology and Journal of Experimental Botany.

ENZYMES INVOLVED IN PLANT DEVELOPMENT - We focus on hydrolytic enzymes to define in atomic details their catalytic mechanisms, thermodynamic and structural determinants of substrate recognition, and natures of transition states that take part during a hydrolytic cycle. We crystallised a plant exohydrolase enzyme and solved its crystal structure, which represents the first atomic structure of this type of hydrolases. We solved more than forty structures of an exohydrolase in complex with mechanism-based inhibitors, substrate analogues and transition-state mimics. We investigated the structural basis of the product and substrate trajectory in the active site of the exohydrolase using X-ray crystallography and NMR spectroscopy. We use molecular dynamics and quantum mechanical simulations, to elucidate kinetic aspects of catalysis and substrate specificity of enzymes.

  • Appointments

    Date Position Institution name
    2010 Professor (Research Only) University of Adelaide
  • Awards and Achievements

    Date Type Title Institution Name Country Amount
    2012 Award Elected a member of the Learned Society of Slovak Academy of Sciences, Slovak Republic Comenius University Slovakia
  • Education

    Date Institution name Country Title
    1978 - 1981 Comenius University in Bratislava Slovakia PhD
  • Certifications

    Date Title Institution name Country
    2012 Doctor Scientiarum Comenius University in Bratislava Slovakia

Research in the Hrmova group is funded by grants from the Australian Research Council, by the Grains Research & Development Corporation, the South Australian Government, the Waite Research Institute of the University of Adelaide, DuPont Pioneer and by the Australian Synchrotron Research Program. The latter is supported by the Commonwealth of Australia under the Major National Research Facilities Program.

I have successfully completed supervisions of 25 doctoral (PhD), masters (MSc) and honours (BSc) candidatures by research. My students have received a variety of awards: Best Presentation in Plant Science and runner up for the Max Tate Award (in-house Annual Postgraduate Symposium), People’s Choice (3-minute PhD thesis competition), Travelling Scholarship to Cambridge University (Barr Smith Foundation), the KP Barley Prize for PhD thesis excellence (Faculty of Sciences), and CJ Everald and GRDC top-up scholarships.

  • Past Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2012 - 2016 Co-Supervisor Characterization of Wheat Cuticle and Wheat Cuticle-Related Transcription Factor Genes in Relation to Drought Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Huihui Bi
    2011 - 2015 Principal Supervisor Structural and functional properties of a borate efflux transporter from barley Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Yagnesh Nagarajan
    2008 - 2017 Co-Supervisor The Evolutionary History and Dynamics of the Cellulose Synthase Superfamily Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Julian Schwerdt
    2004 - 2008 Co-Supervisor Characterisation of PpMDHARs and PpENA1 From the Moss, Physcomitrella patens Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Damian Drew
    1997 - 2002 Co-Supervisor Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of Arabinoxylan Metabolism in Barley Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Robert Lee
  • Position: Professor
  • Phone: 83137160
  • Email:
  • Fax: 8313 7102
  • Campus: Waite
  • Building: Plant Genomics Centre, floor 2
  • Room: 2 36
  • Org Unit: Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG)

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