University of Calgary

Douglas Muench

  • Professor
  • Integrative Cell Biology

Research Interests

Research in the Muench laboratory is focused on post-transcriptional regulatory events and the cytoskeleton in plant cells.

• The Puf (Pumilio) family of RNA binding proteins has an important role in post-transcriptional control of gene expression in eukaryotic cells, including the regulation of mRNA stability, mRNA localization and translational control. There are up to 26 Puf genes in the Arabidopsis genome, a number far greater than any other species studied to date. This suggests that Puf proteins have an important, broad role in post-transcriptional control in plants. We have performed an initial characterization of the activity, structural modeling, and subcellular localization and dynamics of plant Puf family members. Our current efforts are aimed at identifying RNA targets of these proteins and determining the functional roles of these proteins.

• Subcellular mRNA localization and translational control are important post-transcriptional regulatory components of gene expression in eukaryotic cells. A major focus of our research is aimed at understanding unique examples of mRNA localization and translational control in plant cells. One aspect looks at the role of these events in peroxisomal matrix protein synthesis and import. We have demonstrated that the peroxisomal multifunctional protein (MFP), and other peroxisomal matrix proteins, possess microtubule- and RNA-binding activity in plant cells. We have proposed a model that links these activities to translational autoregulation and peroxisomal import in association with the cytoskeleton. Our current efforts are directed toward testing this model.

• We are also utilizing novel molecular approaches in an effort to develop plant based technologies for the remediation and reclamation of oil sands tailing ponds. The Athabasca oil sands of Alberta represent the second largest oil reserve in the world, and this industry is an important driver in the Canadian economy. However, the surface mining methods that are used to extract bitumen from the oil sands result in the production of large volumes of liquid tailings that are permanently stored in nearby ponds. Within these tailings are contained recalcitrant organic acids that are toxic to aquatic organisms. We are using Arabidopsis thaliana as a model species as a plant biosensor and to identify genes that respond to organic acid toxicity.


Graduate Students

Alberts, Mitchell M.Sc. Plants and oil sands tailings biosensing and remediation
Atugala, Dilini PhD. Post-transcriptional control of gene expression
Wen, Xin M.Sc. Post-transcriptional control of gene expression
Wong, Jeremy M.Sc. Plants and oil sands tailings biosensing and remediation

Selected Publications

  • Google Scholar Link
  • Zhang C, Muench DG. 2015. A nucleolar PUF RNA-binding protein with specificity for a unique RNA sequence. J Biol Chem. 290:30108-18
  • Widdup EE, Chatfield-Reed K, Henry D, Chua G, Samuel MA, Muench DG. 2015. Identification of detoxification pathways in plants that are regulated in response to treatment with organic compounds isolated from oilsands process-affected water. Chemosphere. 139:47-53.
  • Leishman C, Widdup EE, Quesnel DM, Chua G, Gieg LM, Samuel MA, Muench DG. 2013. The effect of oil sands process-affected water and naphthenic acids on the germination and development of Arabidopsis. Chemosphere 93:380-387. 
  • Fischer JJ, Beatty PH, Good AG, Muench DG. 2013. Manipulation of microRNA expression to improve nitrogen use efficiency. Plant Science 210:70-81 
    Muench DG, Zhang CDahodwala M. 2012. Control of cytoplasmic translation in plants. WIREs RNA 3:178-94
  • Tam PPC, Barrette-Ng IH, Simon DM, Tam MWC, Ang AL, Muench DG. 2010. The Puf family of RNA-binding proteins in plants: phylogeny, structural modeling, activity and subcellular localization. BMC Plant Biology 10:44. 
  • Park N-I, Yeung EC, Muench DG. 2009. Mago Nashi is involved in meristem organization, pollen development and seed development in Arabidopsis. Plant Science 176:461-469. 
  • Quilichini TD, Muench DG. 2008. The microtubule proteome: a role in regulating protein synthesis and import into organelles? In The Plant Cytoskeleton: a Key Tool for Agro-biotechnology. YB Blume et al., ed. Nato Science for Peace and Security Series C - Environmental Security, pp 267-281.
  • Vickerman LA, Muench DG. 2007. Microtubule-binding proteins. In Plant Proteomics: Technologies, Strategies and Applications. Wiley Interscience (USA). R. Rakwal, ed. 275-289.
  • Park N-I, Muench DG. 2007. Biochemical and cellular characterization of the plant ortholog of PYM, a protein that interacts with with the exon-junction complex core proteins Mago Nashi and Y14. Planta, 225:625-639. 
  • El-Khatib R, Good AG, Muench DG. 2007. Analysis of the Arabidopsis cell suspension phosphoproteome in response to short-term low temperature and abscisic acid treatment. Physiologia Plantarum 129:687-697.
  • Muench DG, Park N-I. 2006. Messages on the move: the role of the cytoskeleton in mRNA localization and translation in plant cells. Canadian Journal of Botany, 84:572-580.
  • Chuong SDX, Park N-I, Freeman MC, Mullen RT, Muench DG. 2005. The peroxisomal multifunctional protein interacts with cortical microtubules in plant cells. BMC Cell Biology 6:40.
  • Chuong SD, Good AG, Taylor GJ, Freeman MC, Moorhead GB, Muench DG. 2004 Large-scale identification of tubulin-binding proteins provides insight on subcellular trafficking, metabolic channeling, and signaling in plant cells. Mol. Cell. Proteomics. 3:970-83.
  • Good AG, Shrawat AK, Muench DG. 2004. Can less yield more? Is reducing nutrient input into the environment compatible with maintaining crop production? Trends Plant Sci. 9:597-605.
  • Chuong SDX, RT Mullen and DG Muench. 2002. Identification of an RNA-and microtubule-binding protein as the multifunctional protein (MFP), a peroxisomal enzyme involved in the Beta-oxidation of fatty acids. Journal of Biological Chemistry 277:2419-2429.
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