Information for Researchers, No. 78 | October 10, 2022

Priority Programme “MAdLand — Molecular Adaptation to Land: Plant Evolution to Change” (SPP 2237)

In 2019 the Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) established the Priority Programme “MAdLand — Molecular Adaptation to Land: Plant Evolution to Change” (SPP 2237). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the second three-year funding period.

One of the most remarkable challenges mastered by plants was the water-to-land-transition (plant terrestrialisation) that occurred some 500 million years ago. This change in habitat inevitably required molecular adaptations to cope with an array of new stresses. Plant terrestrialisation also caused a dramatic change through the transformation of Earth’s atmosphere and soil cover, priming Earth for life as we know it.

The Phragmoplastophyta comprise three lineages of streptophyte (charophyte) algae as well as the land plants (Embryophyta). Evolving from within the streptophyte lineage, the earliest land plants gained features such as stomata as well as the cuticle and made use of fungal symbioses to gain access to inorganic nutrients. These traits are thought to have been instrumental for the habitat transition of plant life. Initially morphologically simple plants evolved a complexity that allowed them to conquer ever more habitats.

Due to the drastic change in habitat during the conquest of land, an identification of molecular adaptations underlying the process of terrestrialisation promises a significant gain of knowledge. This is of special interest both to understanding plant evolution and adaptation to environmental changes, and for the transfer of such knowledge to other disciplines. By a novel comparative and functional evolutionary approach, encompassing streptophyte algae and non-seed plants as models, this Priority Programme studies the genetic mechanisms underpinning the dramatic environmental adaptation to conditions on land and the evolution of plant complexity. During its first funding period, research in the Priority Programme MAdLand already pinpointed important genetic mechanisms in adaptive evolution of plant morphology, physiology, biochemistry, cell biology and biotic interactions – and identified the ancestry of processes from which the diversity of land plants evolved. In phase two, we will scrutinise these genetic mechanisms in light of streptophyte diversification with the aid of the new resources now established. These data will be used to infer properties of the most recent common ancestors of all land plants as well as those shared by land plants and their algal relatives.

The MAdLand community has made major contributions to publicly available data resources for plant (evolutionary) biology and expanded the list of organismal systems accessible for research, and thus generated resources for the whole research community. While the overall framework of research questions will continue to be answered in the second funding period, comparative approaches that respect several models have become more feasible and are hence encouraged.

Projects to be funded within this programme will address outstanding questions of early land plant terrestrialisation and evolution:

  • Which features enabling the conquest of land evolved in charophyte freshwater algae?
  • What is the nature of the most recent common ancestor of (i) all extant land plants and (ii) of land plants and algae?
  • What is the succession and nature of molecular adaptations in early land plant evolution?
  • How did embryogenesis and the alternation of generations evolve?
  • How did organismic interaction of plants with fungi and bacteria evolve?
  • What are the molecular evolutionary drivers of tolerance to abiotic and biotic stresses?

A successful proposal to the MAdLand research programme will clearly indicate to which of these research area(s) it contributes. Ideally, more than one of the above-mentioned research directions are covered.

MAdLand makes use of a broad suite of biological methods and cross-discipline knowledge, ranging from phylogenetic, molecular, physiological, genetic and cell biological approaches to the study of organismic interaction and biodiversity. In this Priority Programme, community support for the following representatives of major non-seed plant lineages (in brackets) is provided for the:

(a) emerging model systems

  • Chara braunii (Charopyhceae)
  • Spirogyra pratensis, Mesotaenium endlicherianum, and Zygnema circumcarinatum (Zygnematophyceae)
  • Anthoceros agrestis (hornwort)
  • Riccia fluitans (liverwort)
  • Ceratopteris richardii and Azolla filiculoides (ferns) and the

(b) established model systems

  • Marchantia polymorpha (liverwort)
  • Physcomitrium patens (moss).

A list of labs specialising on the different model organisms is available from the coordinator. Proposals to MAdLand can build on different species – belonging to one of the major lineages above – if they are fully justified as salient to addressing the core questions of MAdLand. Studies using seed plants or non-streptophytic algae will not be funded; usage of emerging systems, helping them to flourish, is appreciated.

MAdLand is built on applying the comparative method. Projects hence must employ comparative analyses on more than one representative of the major lineages. While laboratory work on organismal systems can be given different emphasis (e.g. depending on the genetic toolbox available), the use of more than one organismal system is mandatory to better identify recurrent patterns and the principles that underpin the evolution of traits. Interactions with other applicants to generate synergistic research effects have to be described, and letters of commitment confirming the availability of expertise on organismal systems shall be provided with the proposal.

Principal investigators (PIs) are expected to have a strong record in one of the topics outlined above, or with one or more of the model organisms. The highly demanding questions tackled within this Priority Programme encourage ambitious, collaborative projects of synergistic nature, bridging labs with expertise in different model organisms or methods. Researchers are invited to submit tandem/interdisciplinary projects with PIs from different but complementary disciplines.

A clearly outlined contribution to the goals and networking of MAdLand and to global initiatives and international collaboration is expected, as well as to which of the outstanding questions the project shall contribute.

Potential applicants are kindly asked to send a short summary of the proposed research [applicant(s), preliminary title, plus a maximum of five lines of text] no later than 1 December 2022 by e-mail to the coordinator (see below). More information on the Priority Programme is available at the SPP’s website (see below).

Proposals must be written in English and submitted to the DFG by 15 February 2023. Please note that proposals can only be submitted via elan, the DFG’s electronic proposal processing system.

Applicants must be registered in elan prior to submitting a proposal to the DFG. If you have not yet registered, please note that you must do so by 1 February 2023 to submit a proposal under this call; registration requests received after this time cannot be considered. You will normally receive confirmation of your registration by the next working day. Note that you will be asked to select the appropriate Priority Programme call during both the registration and the proposal process.

For new proposals: If you would like to submit a proposal for a new project within the existing Priority Programme, please go to Proposal Submission – New Project – Priority Programmes and select “SPP 2237” from the current list of calls.

For renewal proposals: Previous applicants can submit a proposal for the renewal of an existing project under Proposal Submission – Proposal Overview/Renewal Proposal. Please note that you need to select your previous project first from the proposal overview in order to get access to submit a renewal proposal.

In preparing your proposal, please review the programme guidelines (form 50.05, section B) and follow the proposal preparation instructions (form 54.01). These forms can either be downloaded from our website or accessed through the elan portal. For your proposal it is mandatory to use the up-to-date Project Description form (form 53.01). Please be aware that all CVs need to be prepared in English as well. Please use the new template (form 53.200) for all CVs.

Depending on the number of applications, the review process might include a colloquium with the applicants that will then take place in Bonn in June 2023.

Further Information

More information on the Priority Programme is available under:

The elan system can be accessed at:

DFG forms 50.05, 54.01. 53.01 and 53.200 can be downloaded at:

For scientific enquiries please contact the Priority Programme coordinator:

  • Professor Dr. Jan de Vries
    Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
    Institut für Mikrobiologie und Genetik
    Abteilung Angewandte Bioinformatik
    phone: +49 551 39-23755

Questions on the DFG proposal process can be directed to:

Programme contact:

Administrative contact: