My lab is interested in understanding aspects of basic plant biology through the application of molecular biology and genetics. Our main projects involve studying plant development and evolution. Some of our work has the potential to be translated into crops to contribute to food security in the long-term. Projects currently running in the lab are:

How plant malectin domain proteins contribute to development

Plants are developmentally labile. Unlike animals, their shape changes according to the environment. If a main shoot gets eaten or broken, side shoots will emerge to replace it. The cells in the plant therefore have to respond signals from other plant cells and the environment to determine how they function. Receptors on the cell surface detect many diverse signals to monitor the environment surrounding the cell. One major family of receptors is the receptor-like kinases. We are interested in the functions of a subset of the receptor-like kinases, and how these receptors contribute to plant development and environmental responses.

How transposable elements and epigenetics contribute to adaptation

Plant not only respond to immediate environmental conditions. Over the last few years it has become increasingly clear that they can also ‘remember’ past conditions, and even the environment in which their parent(s) grew. As the DNA sequencing of a plant changes only very slowly, the remembrance of the recent past is most probably via chemical changes to the DNA (epigenetics).

I started my research career investigating the epigenetic mechanisms by which transposable elements (otherwise known as jumping genes for their ability to move within a genome) are kept immobile. Over a number of years, my interest has expanded from the epigenetic mechanisms to the transposable elements themselves. My lab is now researching how transposable elements contribute to changes in plant genomes and the potential for plants to adapt to stress.

The lab is part of the plant sciences hub at the University of Sheffield. Please check out the P3 initiative and the Robert Hill Institute.