Dr Juliet Coates

Dr Juliet Coates

School of Biosciences
Senior Lecturer in Plant Molecular Genetics

Contact details

+44 (0)121 41 45478
+44 (0)121 41 45925
School of Biosciences
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Dr Coates's research interest is in understanding plant development and evolution. Her team uses Arabidopsis, moss and seaweeds as model organisms to address fundamental questions about how plants made the transition to land. Recent "research highlights" include uncovering new molecular mechanisms that enabled early-diverging land plants to disperse and colonise the earth, and identifying new genes that enable plants to regulate their root system architecture.

Dr Coates was a Royal Society-Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellow in 2013-14.

You can read more about Dr Coates’s research here or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.



University of London (University College London), UK
PhD: "Armadillo homologues in Dictyostelium discoideum"
Funding: MRC/GlaxoSmithKline 4-year Graduate Programme


University of Cambridge, UK
M.A. (Hons) Natural Sciences, Class I (Part II Zoology)


Juliet spent her formative years growing up in Brighton. She carried out her undergraduate degree in Cambridge and then moved to London for her PhD, living and working north of the river with regular forays south to appreciate the Tate Gallery, the Royal Festival Hall and the Ministry of Sound.

She carried out her first postdoctoral position at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, in Mario de Bono’s lab. She worked on the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying behaviour in C. elegans.

She then crossed over the great evolutionary divide to “the green side” having been awarded an independent postdoctoral fellowship (Gatsby Charitable Foundation Interdisciplinary Research Fellowship) and worked for 3 years in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge, investigating Armadillo-related proteins in Arabidopsis.

In 2004 she accepted a position as a lecturer in Plant Molecular Genetics in Birmingham. She is primary carer for her son and works part-time. Juliet was until recently the School’s Equality and Diversity Champion, chairing the Biosciences Athena SWAN and Equality and Diversity committees, and is a member of the University’s Athena SWAN self-assessment team.


Juliet is passionate about teaching, particularly about enthusing students to enjoy both plant science and developmental biology, and encouraging them to consider plant science as a career choice for the future.

Current undergraduate teaching

  • 3rd year Plant Science in the 21st Century (Module leader): Model plants and molecular genetics, plant hormone signalling, plant stress tolerance, plant breeding, agriculture, plant evolution and development, techniques for studying plant molecular and cell biology
  • 2nd year Plant Science - model plants and algae; plant development and hormones
  • 1st Year Plant Science and Environmental Biology: Plant hormones and development, Plant Cell Biology, plant reproduction, GM crops
  • Supervision of lab research projects (BSc, MSci, MRes and MSc) and BSc literature reviews
  • Tutor groups: Biological Science, Human Biology
  • Embedding Equality and Diversity into the teaching curriculum
  • Plant Biology degree label leader
  • Received University of Birmingham Disability and Learning Support Services’ Excellent Practice Award in 2013

Postgraduate supervision

Current PhD: Xulyu Cao (@271010421Xulyu) - China Scholarship Council funded, Clare Clayton (BBSRC funded), Fatemeh Ghaderi (Islamic Development Bank-funded), Alex Phokas (BBSRC funded).

Current MRes (2018): Helen Wilkinson (@HelWilko)

Past PhD: Laura Moody (@MoodyTomato) - BBSRC-funded, Eleanor Vesty (@MossGirl21) - NERC-funded.

Past PhD/MSc:  Daniel Gibbs (@DJ_Gibbs) - BBSRC-funded

Past MSc:  Anushree Choudhary, Marcus Griffiths, Kirsty Jones, Deborah Kohn Damiano, Anup Mistry, Wesal Tanko

Past MRes: Jessica Fannon, Sarah Needs, Amy Whitbread (@AmyWhitbreadESR), John Rolley, Michelle Adsett

Past MIBTP rotation students: Rachel Clewes (@Rachel_Clewes), Jessica Finch  (@PlantSci74), Lisa King


Research Theme within School of Biosciences: Molecular and Cell Biology, Plant Science. 
See also: Food Security at Birmingham 

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 (the seeds of 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?

coates-land-plant-distribution1) Understanding early land plant distribution mechanisms and hormone signalling

The ancestor of land plants, which arrived from the sea, it was able to distribute itself across the globe via the formation of spores, desiccation-resistant “dispersal units” that enable plant propagation. The equivalent dispersal unit in flowering plants is the seed. Regulating spore germination would have been critical to ensure early land plant colonization, as a spore has to germinate and establish a new plant in a favourable environment.

We have used the moss Physcomitrella patens as a model for the earliest land plants to show that some environmental signals such as light and temperature have similar effects on spore- and seed germination, while the integration of these signals by plant hormones is divergent between spores and seeds, although some similarities exist. Not only does this begin to tell us about the mechanisms enabling plants to colonise the land, but it also opens up possibilities for synthetic biology approaches “re-engineering” germination pathways in spores and seeds.

Collaborators: Henrik Toft Simonsen and George Bassel

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 tomato, and plan to use our Arabidopsis data to inform research to manipulate root development in cereals and grasses

Collaborators: Dan GibbsMalcolm Bennett, Owen Roland.

3) Algae as new model systems

The oceans are still full of 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”, often driven by pollution. Almost nothing is known about the development and morphogenesis of multicellular algae at the molecular level. We are working to understand algal development in the green seaweed Ulva.

Collaborators: Thomas Wichard, Benedicte CharrierJohn BothwellOlivier de Clerck.

We are/have been generously funded by:

  • MSCA
  • The Leverhulme Trust
  • NERC
  • The Gatsby Charitable Foundation
  • The Royal Society
  • The Nuffield Foundation
  • The University of Birmingham
  • British Society for Cell Biology

Lab members past and present:

  • Vishal Gupta (Postdoctoral Fellow from Sept 2018)
  • Alex Phokas (Doctoral Resarcher)
  • Xulyu Cao (Doctoral Researcher)
  • Clare Clayton (Doctoral researcher)
  • Fatemeh Ghadheri (Doctoral researcher)
  • Helen Wilkinson (MRes student)
  • Lisa King (Doctoral Researcher – on rotation)
  • Alec Ballentyne (MSci student)
  • Rachel Clewes (Doctoral Researcher – on rotation)
  • Alice Oliver (MSci student)
  • Ross Etherington (MSci student; now PhD with Dan Gibbs )
  • Ellen Collas (BSc student)
  • Deborah Kohn Damiano (MSc student; now Biotechnologist)
  • Eleanor Vesty (former Doctoral researcher; currently Lecturer at University Centre Shrewsbury)
  • Jess Finch (Doctoral researcher on rotation – now doing PhD with Patrick Schäfer)
  • Jasmine Carlson (former MSci student)
  • Amber Spiteri (former MSci student)
  • Katie Tagg (former BSc student, now at The Binding Site)
  • Michelle Adsett (former MRes student)
  • John Rolley (former MRes student, now PhD in biochemical engineering in Birmingham)
  • Dan Holloway (former MSci student)
  • Umm-E-Aiman (former student)
  • Elizabeth Chapman (former BSc student: doing a PhD at the John Innes Centre)
  • Adam Elgey (former BSc student; then MSc with Dan Gibbs)
  • Sue Bradshaw (former research technician)
  • Sarah Needs (former MRes student, now a PhD student at the Open University)
  • Amy Whitbread (former MRes student, now a COMREC PhD student in Karlsruhe, Germany)
  • Dan McLeod (former MSci 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)
  • Anushree Choudhary (former MSc student, then visiting researcher, now PhD on the MIBTP scheme in Warwick/Birmingham, supervisor Dr Lindsey Leach)
  • Marcus Griffiths (former MSc student, then PhD at the University of Nottingham)
  • Maxwell Ware (former MSci student, then PhD at Queen Mary, University of London)
  • Bethany Burns (former project student, now a genetic counsellor)
  • Lauren McAtamney (former project student, then doing a PGCE)
  • Jessica Fannon (former MRes student, then PhD at the University of Warwick)
  • Kiran Kaur Bansal (former MSci student and summer student)
  • Bill Grey (former MSci project student, with Mike Tomlinson’s lab, then PhD at Hammersmith hospital/KCL)
  • Tim Hearn (former project student, then PhD in Alex Webb's lab)
  • Susan Harding (former MSci student)
  • Dan Gibbs (former PhD student, then in Mike Holdsworth’s lab at the University of Nottingham, now a Birmingham Fellow and Lecturer in the School of Biosciences)
  • Candida Nibau (former postdoc, now at IBERS in Aberystwyth)
  • Anup Mistry (former MSc project student)
  • Erika Yamada (former summer student, now a research associate in New Zealand)
  • Emma Smiles (former project student now teaching)
  • Joshua Neve (former project student, did a PhD in Leeds with Stefan Kepinski)

Other activities

Microtubules in plants
Winning image in Science Snaps competition


Juliet was until 2016 a BBSRC Research Committee panel C core member, and formerly part of the UK Genomic Arabidopsis Resource Network (GARNet) committee (http://www.garnetcommunity.org.uk/advisers/juliet-coates)

Outreach and Public Engagement

She also produces scientific images as art and has won several competitions (e.g. http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/physics/outreach/sciencesnaps/ and http://www.bscb.org/?url=imagecompetition/winners)

Juliet has written a chapter for  “The New Optimists” – a popular science book, and gave an interview, “Adaptable Algae and Magic Moss”, which can be viewed at at http://newoptimists.com/2010/08/09/the-history-of-moss-and-future-of-algae/#more-1326

Juliet has collaborated on Kelp Road with artist Anne Parouty

Juliet enjoys sharing her science with schools and the wider public and was a STEM ambassador for Birmingham and Solihull until 2017

Equality and diversity

Juliet was until 2017 the School’s Equality and Diversity Champion for staff and students. She is a member of the University's Athena SWAN self-assessment team and was a member of the University of Birmingham Advancing Equality in Employment (AEiE) steering group in 2013-14. She chaired the School of Biosciences Athena SWAN working group, which recently renewed a Bronze award.

Outside work, Juliet looks after her son, and when she has any energy left, gardens, swims and does yoga.


Perroud PFHaas FBHiss MUllrich KKAlboresi AAmirebrahimi MBarry KBassi RBonhomme SChen HCoates JFujita TGuyon-Debast ALang DLin JLipzen ANogué FOliver MJPonce de León IQuatrano RSRameau CReiss BReski RRicca MSaidi YSun NSzövényi PSreedasyam AGrimwood JStacey GSchmutz JRensing SA The Physcomitrella patens gene atlas project: large scale RNA-seq based expression data. Plant J (2018) doi: 10.1111/tpj.13940.

Ghaderiardakani F, Coates JC, Wichard T. Bacteria-induced morphogenesis of Ulva intestinalis and Ulva mutabilis (Chlorophyta): a contribution to the lottery theory. FEMS Microbiology Ecology (2017) doi: 10.1093/femsec/fix094

Thompson SEM, Coates JC. Surface sensing and stress-signalling in Ulva and fouling diatoms - potential targets for antifouling: a review. Biofouling (2017) doi: 10.1080/08927014.2017.1319473.

CharrierB, Abreu H, Araujo R, BruhnA, CoatesJC, De Clerck O, KatsarosC, RobainaRR, Wichard T (2017) Furthering knowledge on seaweed growth and development to facilitate sustainable aquaculture. New Phytologist, in press

Charrier B, Coates JC, Stavridou I (2016) Surfing amongst Oil-Tankers: Connecting Emerging Research Fields to the Current International Landscape. Trends in Plant Science, doi: 10.1016/j.tplants.2016.11.003

Plackett ARG and Coates JC (2016) Life’s a beach – the colonization of the terrestrial environment. New Phytologist, doi: 10.1111/nph.14295

Coates JC (2016) Model Plants for Understanding Evolution. Encyclopaedia of Life Science, DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0023749

Vesty EF, Saidi Y, Moody LA, Whitbread A, Needs S, Choudhary A, Burns B, McLeod D, Bradshaw SJ, Bach SS, Lunde C, King BC, Sorensen HT, Coates JC (2016). The decision to germinate is regulated by divergent molecular networks in spores and seeds.
New Phytologist DOI: 10.1111/nph.14018 

Moody LA, Saidi Y, Gibbs DJ, Choudhary A, Bansal KK, Vesty EF, Bradshaw SJ, Coates JC. (2016) An ancient and conserved function for Armadillo-related proteins in the control of spore and seed germination by abscisic acid. New Phytologist doi: 10.1111/nph.13938

Wichard T, Charrier B, Mineur F, Bothwell JH, De Clerck O and Coates JC (2015) The green seaweed Ulva: a model system to study morphogenesis. Front. Plant Sci. 6:72. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2015.00072

Vesty EF, Kessler RW, Wichard T and Coates JC (2015) Regulation of gametogenesis and zoosporogenesis in Ulva linza (Chlorophyta): comparison with Ulva mutabilis and potential for laboratory culture. Front. Plant Sci. 6:15. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2015.00015

Coates JC, Umm-E-Aiman and Charrier, B (2015) Understanding “green” multicellularity: do seaweeds hold the key? Front. Plant Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fpls.2014.00737

Gibbs DJ, Coates JC (2014) AtMYB93 is an endodermis-specific transcriptional regulator of lateral root development in Arabidopsis. Plant Signalling and Behaviour DOI: 10.4161/psb.29808

Gibbs DJ, VoßU, HardingSA, FannonJ, MoodyLA, Yamada E, ChoudharyA, BradshawSJ, SwarupK, LavenusJ, Bassel GW, Nibau C, Bennett MJ, Coates JC. (2014) AtMYB93 is a novel negative regulator of lateral root initiation in Arabidopsis. New Phytologist 203 p.1194-207 

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

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) 


Plants and algae: development, growth and evolution; Plant/algal responses to environment, stress and hormones; Plant cell signalling and gene regulation; Model plants and crops; Arabidopsis, tomato, moss, seaweeds, wheat, Brassica.