Research Theme within School of Biosciences: Molecular and Cell Biology
Lab website addresses:
Plant development, cell biology and evolution
We are interested in plant evolution and development: in all kinds of plants!
Complex organisms such as animals and plants are composed of many cells. The evolution of many-celled (multicellular) organisms from single-celled ancestors is one of the most important steps in the history of life on earth. Very little is known about how this critical event occurred.
In multicellular organisms, cells acquire particular identities by responding to signals that tell them which genes to turn on, and therefore which proteins to make. Each cell type contains a different combination of proteins. This process of acquiring specific cell identities to make a viable organism (such as a plant with leaves, flowers and roots) is called “multicellular development”.
The ancestral single-celled organism that gave rise to animals and plants existed around 1.6 billion years ago. When plants colonised the land, an explosion of plant multicellular evolution occurred from simple water-dwelling green algae. The transition of plants from water to land (around 500 million years ago) was a giant leap in plant evolution and allowed plants to colonise just about every square inch of the globe. It also led to a dramatic increase in the size and complexity of plants.
It is thought all multicellular organisms, including plants, evolved from a relatively small number of single-celled ancestors. Thus, certain fundamental molecular processes controlling multicellular development are likely to be shared by all species. We would like to find out what these processes are!
Why is this important?
Algae and plants are a fundamental part of life on earth. They are integral to our atmosphere, our ecosystems and our society (for food, fuel and much else besides). Most of the complex land-dwelling plants we use in every day life evolved in the last 200 million years. This leaves a “hole” of at least a billion years during which we have very little idea of what was going on in terms of plant evolution. So, understanding how plants got to be the way they are is one of the most under-investigated areas of modern biology.
Over the last decade or two there has been an increased scientific interest in plant biology, probably for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we eat plants. Pretty much everybody depends on one or more members of the grass family (rice, wheat, etc) to provide their staple source of carbohydrate. Growing enough crops in the right places to sustain current world population growth is becoming increasingly challenging; we need to find ways to make plants grow in places that they would not normally be able to. The second reason is that many of the scientific tools that allowed us to understand a great deal about how bacteria, yeasts and animals work at the molecular level, including genetic engineering, can now be used to understand plant biology too.
If we can trace the evolutionary history of the plants we see around us we stand a better chance of being able to use them in a productive way. For example, by understanding how ancient plants made the journey to land, we can identify their drought-resistance strategies and manipulate modern crops to be more drought-resistant when required. In addition, algae are highly adaptable and can live in a huge variety of inhospitable environments. If we could encourage plants to use these algal mechanisms we could grow plants in a diverse range of habitats all over the globe. Algae also provide a potential untapped resource of fuel that could be grown in the water rather than taking up valuable space on land.
What do we actually do?
1) Conserved genes and proteins for multicellular development
One of our key research interests is in evolutionarily ancient proteins that are required for multicellular development in animals, amoebae and plants (e.g. Armadillo-repeat proteins, GSK3s, Tetraspanins). We are currently investigating protein function in an “up-and-coming” and evolutionarily ancient model plant, the moss Physcomitrella patens, which evolved around half a billion years ago. Comparing these functions in Physcomitrella, Sellaginella, rice and Arabidopsis will give us insights whether our proteins of interest proteins are part of evolutionarily conserved developmental signaling pathways.
Collaborators: Rita Tewari, Liz Bailes, Karen Bunting, Peter Winn and Mike Tomlinson.
2) Regulation of plant root architecture
We are interested in signals and proteins that control how roots branch to form a network. This is a developmental process of huge agricultural importance, and is critical for plant growth and responses to changing environments. We investigate root branching mechanisms in Arabidopsis, and plan to use our Arabidopsis data to inform research to manipulate root development in cereals and grasses
Collaborators: Malcolm Bennett, Susana Ubeda-Tomas and Ilda Casimiro.
3) Studying complex algae
The oceans are still full of both single-celled and many-celled algae. Their conversion of sunlight into sugars drives nearly all other ecosystems, thus we are totally dependent upon them. They represent a relatively “untapped” reserve of biofuels. However, too many algae can have a negative environmental impact, causing destructive algal “blooms”. Almost nothing is known about the genetic complement of algae, particularly complex and multicellular algae, which have some similar characteristics to land plants. We plan to use new high-throughput technologies to sequence and analyse a diversity of algal transcriptomes.
Check out our embryonic UlvoBASE site: http://ulvo.xbase.ac.uk/
We are/have been generously funded by:
The Leverhulme Trust
The Gatsby Charitable Foundation
The Royal Society
The Nuffield Foundation
The University of Birmingham
British Society for Cell Biology
Lab members past and present:
Eleanor Vesty (PhD student)
Younousse Saidi (Former postdoc; now at Bayer Crop Science)
Laura Moody (Former PhD student, now in Jane Langdale's lab at the University of Oxford)
Sue Bradshaw (technician)
Anushree Choudhary (MSc student, now visiting researcher)
Jessica Fannon (MRes student, now at the University of Warwick)
Kiran Kaur Bansal (MSci student)
Bill Grey (MSci project student, with Mike Tomlinson’s lab, now at Hammersmith hospital)
Tim Hearn (former project student, now doing PhD in Alex Webb's lab from October 2011)
Dan Gibbs (former PhD student, now in Mike Holdsworth’s lab at the University of Nottingham)
Candida Nibau (former postdoc, now in Glyn Jenkins’s lab at IBERS in Aberystwyth)
Anup Mistry (former MSc project student)
Kiran Kaur Bansal (former summer student)
Erika Yamada (former summer student)
Emma Smiles (former project student now teaching)
Joshua Neve (past project student now doing a PhD in Leeds with Stefan Kepinski )
Moody LA, Saidi Y, Smiles EJ, Bradshaw SJ, Meddings M, WinnPJ, Coates JC. (2012)
ARABIDILLO gene homologues in basal land plants: species-specific gene duplication and likely functional redundancy.
Planta, doi 10.1007/s00425-012-1742-7
Saidi Y, Hearn TJ, Coates JC. (2012)
Function and evolution of “green” GSK3/shaggy-like kinases.
Trends in Plant Science 17 p.39-46 (epub ahead of print)
Coates JC, Moody LA, Saidi Y. (2011)
Plants and the earth system – past events and future challenges.
New Phytologist 189 p.370-383
Nibau C, Gibbs DJ, Bunting KA, Moody LA, Smiles EJ, Tubby JA, Bradshaw SJ, Coates JC. (2011)
ARABIDILLO proteins have a novel and conserved domain structure important for the regulation of their stability.
Plant Molecular Biology 75 p.77-92 (epub ahead of print)
Straschil U, Talman A, Ferguson DJP, Bunting KA, Xu Z, Bailes E, Sinden RE, Holder AA, Smith EF, Coates JC, Tewari R. (2010)
The armadillo repeat protein PF16 is essential for flagellar structure and function in Plasmodium male gametes
PLoS One 5 e12901
Tewari R, Bailes E, Coates JC. (2010)
Armadillo protein evolution: lessons from little creatures (Invited review)
Trends in Cell Biology 20 p.470-81
Møller IS, Gilliham M, Jha D, Mayo GM, Roy SJ, Coates JC, Haseloff J, Tester M. (2009)
Shoot Na+ exclusion and increased salinity tolerance engineered by cell type-specific alteration of Na+ transport in Arabidopsis.
The Plant Cell 21 p.2163-2178
Coates JC. (2008)
Green evolution: the key to a new generation (Invited book chapter)
In: The New Optimists – a popular science book. (ed Keith Richards, Linus Publishing) p.93-96
Nibau C, Gibbs DJ, Coates JC. (2008)
Branching out in new directions: the control of root architecture by lateral root formation (Invited Tansley Review)
New Phytologist 179 p.595-614
Ubeda-Tomás S, Swarup R, Coates J, Swarup K, Laplaze L, Beemster GT, Hedden P, Bhalerao R, Bennett MJ. (2008)
Root growth in Arabidopsis requires gibberellin/DELLA signalling in the endodermis.
Nature Cell Biology 10 p.625-628
Coates JC. (2007)
Armadillo repeat proteins: versatile regulators of plant development and signaling (Invited book chapter)
In: Plant Cell Monographs 10: Plant Growth Signalling (eds Bogre L and Beemster G; Springer) p.299-314
Coates JC, Laplaze L, Haseloff J. (2006)
Armadillo-related proteins promote lateral root development in Arabidopsis.
PNAS 103 p.1621-1626
Harwood AJ, Coates JC. (2004)
A prehistory of cell adhesion (Invited review)
Current Opinion in Cell Biology 16 p.470-476
Coates JC. (2003)
Armadillo repeat proteins: beyond the animal kingdom (Invited review).
Trends in Cell Biology 13 p.463-471
Coates JC and deBono M. (2002)
Antagonistic pathways in neurons exposed to the body fluid regulate social feeding in C. elegans.
Nature 419 p.925-928.
Coates JC, Grimson MJ, Williams RSB, Bergman W, Blanton RL, Harwood AJ. (2002)
Loss of the b-catenin homologue aardvark causes ectopic stalk formation in Dictyostelium.
Mechanisms of Development 116 p.117-127
Coates JC, Harwood AJ. (2001)
Cell-cell adhesion and signal transduction during Dictyostelium development.
J. Cell Sci 114 p.4349-4358
Grimson MJ, Coates JC, Reynolds JP, Shipman M, Blanton RL, Harwood AJ. (2000)
Adherens junctions and b-catenin-mediated signalling in a non-metazoan organism.
Nature 408 p.727-731 (Joint first author)