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Research Groups and Specialisms


Dr Adrian Brennan 

My research group explores the genetic and phenotypic variation of flax/linseed varieties and their wild crop relatives from across their large native range to improve production in the context of a globally changing environment. We apply new genomic tools to provide an unprecedented genome-wide perspective to improve the efficiency of plant breeding. 

Dr Uli Bechtold


Professor Martin Cann

Our focus is Plant Immunity. Our work synergizes with applied crop research by providing theoretical advances in an area of NLR function where we have little knowledge; the mechanism by which an activated NLR protein regulates known effector molecules. Our work thus provides underpinning science supporting the use of NLRs in engineering pathogen resistance in crops. 

Dr Steve Chivasa

The fundamental question our research seeks to understand is - how do cells in tissues of living organisms communicate with their neighbours? The underpinning hypothesis is that cells operate an ingenious collective “decision-making” process where a quorum must be reached for response activation in a decentralized system. The implication of this is that we can target specific tissue compartments for analysis using Proteomics and Metabolomics technologies to unravel key signals used in stress adaptation. The translational application of the research has been directed at ongoing efforts to develop agritech innovations to protect crops from drought, diseases, and weeds. In addition to crops (sorghum, cowpeas, oilseed rape, etc), we are developing cyanobacterial and microalgal systems as green factories for production of useful industrial feedstocks and as tools for bioremediation.

Dr Peter Etchells 

We aim to understand the developmental cues that control formation of vascular cell types. Applications for this work include:  

  • Increasing wood formation in forest trees  
  • Altering water use efficiency  
  • Changing plant stem characteristics to prevent lodging 
  • Understanding tuber formation. 

Dr Elaine Fitches 

As an applied entomologist my research focusses on developing novel protein based approaches for the protection of crops against attack by invertebrate pests. In addition with interests in the field of insect biotechnology I am involved in research that seeks to understand the potential use of insects as novel feed ingredients with current focus on understanding the potential value of insect derived biofertilisers for crop and soil health. 

Professor Patrick Hussey 

Our research is orientated on investigation of involvement of the cytoskeleton in cell biological processes and its key regulatory roles through signalling cascades in essential cellular functions. Applications are in the area of polarised cell growth in sexual reproduction, autophagy, perception and response to microbial pathogens and novel design of herbicides and herbicide resistance. 

Professor Karen Johnson

My passion is soil. I work both within the academic community, with policy makers and with the public to champion protection of our soils both in the UK and in Africa. We use waste materials as soil amendments to improve soil structure, soil health and crop productivity. Soil is not glamorous, yet it underpins all life as well as providing flood resilience in the UK and potential drought resilience within Africa. 

Dr Heather Knight 

We aim to increase our understanding of the mechanisms plants use to tolerate freezing conditions, so that we can identify genes and traits that will be of use in the development of future resilient crops. This is of particular important in the light of climate change, as we are seeing increasing incidences of unpredictable early autumn and late spring frosts, which cause considerable damage to crops at a vulnerable stage. 

Professor Marc Knight 

We aim to use chemical genetic approaches to improve plant growth and yield. We also use mathematical modelling of calcium signalling to engineer enhanced stress tolerance. 

Professor Keith Lindsey

The Lindsey lab is interested in understanding fundamental mechanisms in plant development, and especially root development. This includes characterising the responses of the root system to external stresses, such as water deficit, nutritional depletion, soil compaction and plant response to infection by parasitic nematodes. All these stresses can affect root architecture and potentially reduce crop yield, and so represent targets for improved crop performance by plant breeders. An understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved will allow more targeted improvement strategies, through either the use of more refined molecular markers or through GM technology. 

Dr Junli Liu

We aim to develop systems biology theory and its application to plants and microbes. Our research studies important theoretical questions such as the underlying principles for plant signalling and maintenance of biological stable states under a changing environment. Our research also develops various systems biology approaches to study biologically important systems. Examples include hormonal crosstalk in Arabidopsis, ion dynamics in the pollen tube growth, calcium signalling under biotic and abiotic stress.

Dr Miguel de Lucas  

Understanding how plants perceive and respond to light information is key for solving agricultural challenges. Processes such as germination, flowering time, plant shape and size are directly influenced by light quality, quantity and duration. Furthermore, three plant hormones have been principally associated with the regulation of light responses: auxin, gibberellin and brassinosteroids. 

Optimising the impact of these three hormones in the modulation of light responses is key for improving agricultural traits, but to accomplish this task we first need to understand their mode of action. 

My lab aims to understand how light and hormone signals impinge on the chromatin remodelling machinery to modulate developmental transitions. 

Dr Ehmke Pohl

Our work aims to combine biophysical and structural methods with structure-based drug design to combat infectious diseases. 

Professor Nigel Robinson 

Our work and expertise in the cell biology of metals is applicable to understanding and optimizing the in vivo metalation of proteins. Approximately a half of the reactions of life require metals. 

Professor Ari Sadanandom

The current focus of Ari’s research is to understand how protein modifications influence plant disease. When plants are under attack by pathogens, lots of yield processes are halted and this has a big impact on productivity. If we understood more about how regulatory mechanisms like protein modification influence this yield arrest, this would enable us to develop crops with better productivity without compromising crop immunity. 

Professor Patrick Steel

We work in close collaboration with several groups, applying chemical biology techniques to solve agrochemical problems. For example, with Ehmke Pohl (Durham) and Prof. Robert Edwards (Newcastle University) we are studying processes involved in agrochemical metabolism and, in particular, enzymes associated with herbicide detoxification and resistance. We have identified the first small molecule compounds capable of reversing multiple herbicide resistance in black grass weeds. Also, with Prof. Mark Knight (Durham) we have started a programme using small molecules to probe the role of hormonal signalling in plants, particularly in relation to root development under conditions of stress (drought, freezing etc.).