LABORATORY OF PLANT PHYSIOLOGY AND BIOPHYSICS

  • Broad Bean
    Vicia faba is familiar to us as the broad bean
    or butterbean. It is a robust, upright annual
    that grows well in cooler environments. It’s
    rounded, segmented leaves are easy to dissect
    by hand and have long been a favourite for
    research on stomatal guard cells and their
    control of gas exchange in plants. Data that
    comes from studies of Vicia remains the gold
    standard in the field of membrane transport
    and its control.
  • Cyanobacteria
    Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae,
    obtain their energy through photosynthesis,
    making use of much the same pathways as plants.
    It is thought that modern plants arose through
    a symbiotic association with cyanobacteria,
    which have since evolved to form the chloroplasts
    of higher plants thus providing energy to the
    host. For these reasons, cyanobacteria have long
    been used as a model with which to study the
    process of photosynthesis.
  • Water Scarcity
    Water scarcity and changes in the global
    environment are the most serious threats to
    global food security. Many parts of the USA,
    Australia and Asia as well as the mediterranean
    countries have seen substantial increases in
    water deficits over the past decade. Even in the
    UK, the demand for irrigation water has risen
    almost 10-fold in the past 20 years. Recurrence
    of the Dust Bowl phenomenon that devastated the
    American wheat belt is a real concern.
  • Begonia
    Begonias represent one of the largest and most
    diverse genera among the angiosperms. Several
    Begonia species exhibit complex stomatal
    patterning and variable stomatal clustering,
    which may be important for their physiological
    adaptation to extreme wet environments such as
    around waterfalls, and is a focus of research
    in the Laboratory.
  • Arabidopsis Flowers
    The Arabidopsis genome was the first plant genome
    to be fully sequenced. This knowledge, together
    with a large body of mutational data, tools for
    genetic manipulation and access to closerelatives
    with varied physiological traits, greatly speeds
    fundamental research in the plant sciences.
  • Oilseed rape
    Brassica napus is a major focus
    for translational research building on work
    from Arabidopsis. The leaves and stems are
    commonly eaten in Southeast Asia and are often
    found in asian groceries sold as tender greens.
    Over 60% of its cultivation in the EU currently
    goes into biodiesel production. Rapeseed demands
    substantial water and N fertilization, although
    newer varieties grown in Canada have been
    reported to be more drought-tolerant.
  • Jungle Night
    Amorphophallus Paeoniifolius is one of a number
    of giant arums found in tropical central
    Americas. Its close relative, Amorphophallus
    titanium, produces the largest flower in the
    world, which can grow to over 2 meters in
    height. Like many giant arums, A. paeoniifolius
    grows from an elongated tuber. The leaf
    structure, stomatal organisation and venation,
    visible here, are well-adapted for highly humid
    environments.

Research

Our research addresses fundamental questions relevant to the water and mineral relations of plants. Plant biomass is inextricably tied to mineral nutrients and water: increases in crop production depend fundamentally on increased nutrient and water use. On a global scale, agriculture accounts for roughly 70% of our water consumption, most of which is lost via transpiration from the leaves of crops. Over 60% of otherwise ‘fertile’ areas around the world, including parts of Australia, Southeast Asia, China, and the corn and wheat belts United States, are now fundamentally dependent on mineral fertilization and irrigation. Water and mineral stress, and toxic salinization of soils are the most important factors restricting vegetative plant growth and crop yield worldwide. Addressing these pressures on crop production will be an essential step to averting the pending crisis in food and water security we face over the next 20 years.

Ongoing interests of the Laboratory cover a range of topics, including stomatal guard cells, which serve as the primary defence of the plant against evaporative water loss, the biophysical and regulatory mechanisms controlling ion transport across cellular membranes, the coordination of membrane traffic and transport in cell expansion, and the genetics of nutrient-driven development. Next-generation sequencing technologies are used to investigate gene regulation in model plants, including those adapted to drought and salinity. In addition, we are exploring ways of developing synthetic biological engineering to find new solutions to related problems such as water desalinisation and photosynthetic carbon capture. Finally, the laboratory has generated over the years a number of computational tools, software and molecular biological resources. Many of these are available to the scientific community either free of charge or at the cost of handling and postage.