As weather patterns become increasingly unpredictable due to climate change, a detailed understanding of the mechanisms that plants have evolved to sense and respond to environmental stress (such as flooding or drought) is essential. Dr Daniel Gibbs studies the cellular mechanisms that plants use to detect and respond to internal and environmental signals, and how they lead to alterations in growth, development and survival. The general aim of his work is to identify promising targets that can be manipulated in agriculturally important crops to improve growth, productivity and stress tolerance.
Plant growth is strongly influenced by the environment. Environmental cues can act to start or stop growth, and when environmental signals are outside the comfort range of a plant, they cause stress.
The research of Professor George Bassel is interested in understanding how plants make decisions during their life in response to the environment, using seed germination as a model system. As seeds are the starting and end point for the majority of the world’s agriculture and 70% of the world’s calories come directly from seeds, this work can be translated to a wide range of crop species.
Mitochondria and chloroplasts are bioenergetic organelles that power plant cells. Understanding the evolution and control of these bioenergetic and metabolic systems will help us design more energy-efficient and high-yielding crops. Dr Iain Johnston’s work couples laboratory and field experiments with mathematical and computational modelling to explore the evolution and control of mitochondria and chloroplasts, plant metabolism, and responses of plant architecture to changing CO2 levels.
Cutting-edge statistical tools enable us to harness complex datasets (including those from cell-level fluorescence microscopy, in situ subsurface imaging, large-scale genetic and physiological data, and noisy and variable biological time series) to build and refine models describing underlying biological mechanisms and predict future behaviour of plant systems. These studies will inform approaches to design more efficient crops and engineer plant energetics, and assess how plants will respond to future changes in climate.
Dr Jeremy Pritchard analyses how plants respond to stresses, particularly drought, salt, pollution and pest attack. His research utilizes a range of plant species including thyme. This work can be used to enhance stress tolerance in this and other species.
The domestication of crop plants from their wild relatives is a form of controlled selection by humans. Similarly, the crop plants that we eat today evolved from earlier progenitor species. Dr Juliet Coates is interested in understanding how this process of evolution occurred in land plants and also green seaweeds, which represent a largely untapped food resource. Understanding the evolution of plant and algal growth and development along with drought- and stress-resistance strategies will enable transfer of this knowledge to food crops in the future.