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Dr Heather Knight

Associate Professor

B.Sc. (Hons.), Ph.D.

AffiliationRoom numberTelephone
Associate Professor in the Department of Biosciences +44 (0) 191 33 43215


Research Interests

Plants respond to abiotic stress by making physiological and metabolic changes that help them survive further stress. Many of these changes are brought about by transcriptional reprogramming My research focusses on the molecular mechanisms that bring about freezing tolerance in plants and the regulation of genes that protect plants against low temperature and other forms of abiotic stress. We have been elucidating the roles of a number of genes in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana that determine the plant’s level of tolerance to freezing stress. One of these genes, sensitive-to-freezing6 (SFR6) encodes a component of the Mediator transcriptional coactivator complex, and is essential for the transcriptional response to low temperature that protects plants from freezing. My lab showed that specificity in plant Mediator function (the ability of the complex to “choose” which genes it switches on) is implemented through distinct individual subunit roles and we published work describing the molecular mechanism that allows this to happen (Hemsley et al, 2014). Recently we identified SFR8 as a gene that governs freezing tolerance by influencing cell wall structure (Panter et al., 2019) and ongoing research is elucidating a role for this gene in desiccation tolerance. Currently we are working with Dr Gabriele Sosso and Dr Tom Whale in Warwick University to elucidate the relationship between plant cell wall composition and ice formation in plant tissues 

Research interests

  • Plant freezing tolerance
  • Transcriptional regulation
  • Plant stress responses
  • Plant Cell wall
  • Mechanical properties of plant cells

Research groups

  • Durham Centre for Crop Improvement Technology
  • Molecular Plant Sciences

Awarded Grants

  • 2012: Control of Specificity in gene expression(£172188.00 from The Leverhulme Trust)

Applied Grants

  • 2012: Identification of genes essential for freezing tolerance as targets for manipulation in crops (CO-I)
  • 2009: BBSRC, “Identifying components of the SFR6 pathway controlling cold acclimation and drought tolerance”, £343,034.07 (as PI).
  • 2006: BBSRC ‘Crosstalk between cold and light signalling pathways in Arabidopsis thaliana’, £228k, (as co-applicant).
  • 2003: BBSRC ‘The mechanism of action of SFR6, a key regulator of gene expression and cold acclimation’, £196k, (as recognised researcher).
  • 2002: BBSRC ‘The molecular basis of low temperature perception and calcium signalling in Arabidopsis’, £244k, (as co-applicant).
  • 2001: BBSRC ‘Molecular basis for discrimination between drought and cold in Arabidopsis’, £202k, (as co-applicant).

Esteem Indicators

  • 2018: Invited speaker Beijing: Invited to give a seminar at the Chinas Agriculture University, Beijing.
  • 2018: Invited speaker UNAM, Mexico: Invited to present a seminar at Dept of Biochemistry, UNAM, Mexico City
  • 2017: Appointed as external Examiner, Salford: External Examiner for Masters in Biotechnology, University of Salford
  • 2012: Elected member of GARNet advisory Committee (2012-2015): Elected to serve on the GARNet Committee to represent the interests of the Araidopsis research community.

    Invited (With Dr Kerry Franklin of Bristol University) by the Society for Experimental Biology to run a session entitled “Plant temperature responses: shaping development and enhancing survival?” at the SEB’s Annual meeting in Florence, July 2018.


Chapter in book

  • Knight, H (2000). Calcium signaling during abiotic stress in plants. In International Review of Cytology. 195: 269-324.
  • Panter, Paige E., Panter, Jack R. & Knight, Heather (2020). Impact of Cell‐wall Structure and Composition on Plant Freezing Tolerance. In Annual Plant Reviews online. Wiley Blackwell. 3: 607.

Journal Article

  • Peiter, E, Maathuis, FJM, Mills, LN, Knight, H, Pelloux, M, Hetherington, AM & Sanders, D (2005). The vacuolar Ca2+-activated channel TPC1 regulates germination and stomatal movement. Nature 434(7031): 404-408.
  • Knight, H., Thomson, A. J. & McWatters, H. G. (2008). SENSITIVE TO FREEZING6 Integrates Cellular and Environmental Inputs to the Plant Circadian Clock. Plant Physiology 148(1): 293-303.
  • Liu, Qiangbo, Ding, Yanglin, Shi, Yiting, Ma, Liang, Wang, Yi, Song, Chunpeng, Wilkins, Katie A, Davies, Julia M, Knight, Heather, Knight, Marc R, Gong, Zhizhong, Guo, Yan & Yang, Shuhua (2021). The calcium transporter ANNEXIN1 mediates cold‐induced calcium signaling and freezing tolerance in plants. The EMBO Journal 40(2).
  • Knight, H., Mugford Nee Garton, S. G., Ulker, B., Gao, D., Thorlby, G. & Knight, M. R. (2009). Identification of SFR6, a key component in cold acclimation acting post-translationally on CBF function. The Plant Journal 58(1): 97-108.
  • Wright, AJ, Knight, H & Knight, MR (2002). Mechanically stimulated TCH3 gene expression in Arabidopsis involvesprotein phosphorylation and EIN6 downstream of calcium. Plant Physiology 128(4): 1402-1409.
  • Knight, H, Veale, EL, Warren, GJ & Knight, MR (1999). The sfr6 mutation in Arabidopsis suppresses low-temperature inductionof genes dependent on the CRT DRE sequence motif. Plant Cell 11(5): 875-886.
  • Boyce, JM, Knight, H, Deyholos, M, Openshaw, MR, Galbraith, DW, Warren, G & Knight, MR (2003). The sfr6 mutant of Arabidopsis is defective in transcriptional activation via CBF/DREB1 and DREB2 and shows sensitivity to osmoticstress. Plant Journal 34(4): 395-406.
  • Rentel, MC, Lecourieux, D, Ouaked, F, Usher, SL, Petersen, L, Okamoto, H, Knight, H, Peck, SC, Grierson, CS, Hirt, H & Knight, MR (2004). OXI1 kinase is necessary for oxidative burst-mediated signalling inArabidopsis. Nature 427(6977): 858-861.
  • Liu, J.L., Knight, H., Hurst, C.H. & Knight, M.R. (2012). Modelling and experimental analysis of the role of interacting cytosolic and vacuolar pools in shaping low temperature calcium signatures in plant cells. Molecular BioSystems 2012(8): 2205-2220.
  • Lee, Morgan, Dominguez-Ferreras, Anna, Kaliyadasa, Ewon, Huang, Wei-Jie, Antony, Edna, Stevenson, Tracey, Lehmann, Silke, Schäfer, Patrick, Knight, Marc R., Ntoukakis, Vardis & Knight, Heather (2021). Mediator Subunits MED16, MED14, and MED2 Are Required for Activation of ABRE-Dependent Transcription in Arabidopsis. Frontiers in Plant Science 12: 649720.
  • Knight, H & Knight, MR (2001). Abiotic stress signalling pathways: specificity and cross-talk. Trends In Plant Science 6(6): 262-267.
  • Knight, H, Trewavas, AJ & Knight, MR (1997). Calcium signalling in Arabidopsis thaliana responding to drought and salinity. Plant Journal 12(5): 1067-1078.
  • Caroline S Moffat, Robert A Ingle, Deepthi L Wathugala, Nigel J Saunders, Heather Knight & Marc R Knight (2012). ERF5 and ERF6 Play Redundant Roles as Positive Regulators of JA/Et-Mediated Defense against Botrytis cinerea in Arabidopsis. PLoS ONE 7(4): e35995.
  • Knight, H, Trewavas, AJ & Knight, MR (1996). Cold calcium signaling in Arabidopsis involves two cellular pools and achange in calcium signature after acclimation. Plant Cell 8(3): 489-503.
  • Kaplan, B., Davydov, O., Knight, H., Galon, Y., Knight, M.R., Fluhr, R. & Fromm, H. (2006). Rapid transcriptome changes induced by cytosolic Ca2+ transients reveal ABRE-related sequences as Ca2+-responsive cis-elements in Arabidopsis. Plant Cell 18: 2733-2748.
  • Wathugala, D.L., Richards, S.A., Knight, H. & Knight, M.R. (2011). OsSFR6 is a functional rice orthologue of SENSITIVE TO FREEZING-6 and can act as a regulator of COR gene expression, osmotic stress and freezing tolerance in Arabidopsis. New Phytologist 191(4): 984-995.
  • Whalley, H. J., Sargeant, A. W., Steele, J. F. C., Lacoere, T., Lamb, R., Saunders, N. J., Knight, H. & Knight, M. R. (2011). Transcriptomic Analysis Reveals Calcium Regulation of Specific Promoter Motifs in Arabidopsis. The Plant Cell 23(11): 4079-4095.
  • Knight, H, Brandt, S & Knight, MR (1998). A history of stress alters drought calcium signalling pathways in Arabidopsis. Plant Journal 16(6): 681-687.
  • Plieth, C, Hansen, UP, Knight, H & Knight, MR (1999). Temperature sensing by plants: the primary characteristics of signal perception and calcium response. Plant Journal 18(5): 491-497.
  • Hemsley, P.A., Hurst, C.H., Kaliyadasa, E., Lamb, R., Knight, M.R., De Cothi, E.A., Steele, J.F. & Knight, H. (2014). The Arabidopsis Mediator complex subunits MED16, MED14 and MED2 regulate Mediator and RNA polymerase II recruitment to CBF-responsive cold-regulated genes. The Plant Cell 26(1): 465-484.
  • Pinneh, E.C., Stoppel, R., Knight, H., Knight, M.R., Steel, P.G. & Denny, P.W. (2019). Expression levels of inositol phosphorylceramide synthase modulate plant responses to biotic and abiotic stress in Arabidopsis thaliana. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0217087.
  • Sorek, N., Szemenyei, H., Sorek, H., Landers, A., Knight, H., Bauer, S., Wemmer, D.E. & Somerville, D.R. (2015). Identification of MEDIATOR16 as the Arabidopsis COBRA suppressor, MONGOOSE1. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112(52): 16048-16053.
  • Knight, Marc. R. & Knight, Heather (2012). Low-temperature perception leading to gene expression and cold tolerance in higher plants. New Phytologist 195(4): 737-751.
  • Ulker, B, Peiter, E, Dixon, DP, Moffat, C, Capper, R, Bouche, N, Edwards, R, Sanders, D, Knight, H & Knight, MR (2008). Getting the most out of publicly available T-DNA insertion lines. Plant Journal 56(4): 665-677.
  • Panter, Paige E., Kent, Olivia, Dale, Maeve, Smith, Sarah J., Skipsey, Mark, Thorlby, Glenn, Cummins, Ian, Ramsay, Nathan, Begum, Rifat A., Sanhueza, Dayan, Fry, Stephen C., Knight, Marc R. & Knight, Heather (2019). MUR1-mediated cell-wall fucosylation is required for freezing tolerance in Arabidopsis thaliana. New Phytologist 224(2): 1518-1531.
  • Wathugala, D.L., Hemsley, P.A., Moffat, C.S., Cremelie, P., Knight, M.R. & Knight, H. (2012). The Mediator subunit SFR6/MED16 controls defence gene expression mediated by salicylic acid and jasmonate responsive pathways. New Phytologist 195(1): 217-230.
  • Brault, M, Amiar, Z, Pennarun, AM, Monestiez, M, Zhang, ZS, Cornel, D, Dellis, O, Knight, H, Bouteau, FO & Rona, JP (2004). Plasma membrane depolarization induced by abscisic acid in Arabidopsis suspension cells involves reduction of proton pumping in addition to anion channel activation, which are both Ca2+ dependent. Plant Physiology 135(1): 231-243.
  • Knight, H & Knight, MR (2000). Imaging spatial and cellular characteristics of low temperature calcium signature after cold acclimation in Arabidopsis. Journal Of Experimental Botany 51(351): 1679-1686.

Supervision students