University of Calgary

Douglas Muench

  • Professor
  • Integrative Cell Biology

Research Interests

Research Interests

Characterization and engineering of proteins that regulate post-transcriptional gene expression

We study RNA-binding proteins that have important roles in the stability, localization and translation of mRNAs in plant cells. The Puf (Pumilio) family of RNA-binding proteins function in post-transcriptional control of gene expression in eukaryotic cells. There are up to 26 Puf genes in the genome of the model plant Arabidopsis, 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. Our current efforts are aimed at identifying RNA targets of these proteins in order to determine the functional roles of these proteins. We are engineering plant Puf proteins in an effort to design advanced Pufs that can target specific mRNA species in the cell and regulate the stability, processing or translation of these target mRNAs by coupling the Puf protein to effector domains. We are also using newly described approaches that will identify the in vivo RNA targets of several other plant RNA binding proteins, including metabolic enzymes that 'moonlight' as RNA-binding proteins. The approaches used here involve advanced mass spectrometry and RNA-seq methods.

Novel molecular, metabolic and cellular approaches to develop plant-based technologies for the remediation of oil sands tailings water

The Athabasca oil sands of Alberta represent the third largest oil reserve in the world, and the 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 tailings water are recalcitrant organic acids that are toxic to living organisms. We are using the model plant Arabidopsis as a plant biosensor for toxicity and to identify genes that have the ability to degrade these organics. Native species are also central to our research aimed at understanding how plants remove and degrade organics from tailings water, and how selected plant species and their associated microbes can be implemented into a passive water treatment strategy in the field.

Graduate Students

Graduate Students


Mitchell Alberts


Plants and oil sands tailings remediation

Dilini Atugala


Post-transcriptional control of gene expression

Chris Joshna


Post-transcriptional control of gene expression

Jeremy Wong


Plants and oil sands tailings remediation



Selected Publications

Alberts ME, Chua G and Muench DG. 2019. Responses of the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles to naphthenic acids and acid extractable organics derived from oil sands process-affected water. Science of the Total Environment, 651:2830-2844

Thiruvenkadam S, Abbasi N, Kim H-S, Kim H, Park N-I, Park G, Oh S-A, Park, S-K, Muench DG, Choi Y, Park, Y-I and Choi, S-B. 2017. An Arabidopsis Divergent Pumilio Protein, APUM24, Is Essential for Embryogenesis and Required pre-rRNA Processing. Plant J., 92:1092-1105

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 C, Dahodwala 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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