We use multiple model and crop species in our work. From top left, Arabidopsis thaliana, Arabis alpina, Brassica napus (oilseed rape), Pisum sativum (garden pea), Solanum lycopersicon (tomato), Fallopia japonica (Japanese knotweed), Triticum aestivum (wheat), Hordeum vulgarum (barley).

Strigolactone signalling and evolution

We have been heavily involved in defining the core mechanism of strigolactone signalling in flowering plants, but much remains to be understood about downstream signalling events. Furthermore, evolutionary analyses suggest that the strigolactone signalling pathway we have defined had only evolved relatively recently. We aim to dissect strigolactone signalling in a range of plant species at greater depth.

Control of reproductive architecture

The reproductive phase in flowering plants is strongly hierarchical; plants must first make inflorescences (reproductive branches), in order to make flowers, which are in turn a pre-requisite for fruits and seeds, which are the ultimate goal of reproductive development. The number, type and arrangement of reproductive organs plants must there be carefully regulated with respect to resource availability and environmental conditions, and the plant must not over-commit resources to the early developmental stages. However, the mechanisms that allow this ‘reproductive architecture’ to be precisely regulated in space and time are currently poorly characterised. We believe a series of negative feedbacks loops are key to preventing over-commitment at each developmental stage, but ultimately limit the reproductive effort relative to available resources in crop plants. We therefore aim to understand the signalling mechanisms that underlie these feedbacks.

The end of flowering

While we know a huge amount regarding how plants initiate flowering, we know almost nothing about the mechanisms that bring about the end of flowering. This project extends our previous work on the hormonal regulation of shoot architecture to look at the events which occur after flowering in both annual and perennial plants. How do plants know when to stop flowering, when to stop producing fruit and when to stop growing?

Limitations on branching, biomass & yield

This project builds on our long-standing interest in the regulation of shoot growth.  Our work shows that plants are inherently ‘cautious’ about resource use, and therefore limit their own growth, even when external factors (light, mineral nutrients, water) are not limiting. We want to identify the mechanisms that plants use to determine their growth relative to  available resources, and to understand the consequences of this for crop growth and yield, nutrient use efficiency, and forest biomass accumulation.

Root volume restriction

It is well known to gardeners that plant pots can restrict plant growth, a phenomenon known as root restriction. However, the mechanism by which plants detect limited soil volume and correspondingly adjust their growth are currently unknown. We believe that plants sense the density of their own roots, and this allows them to determine their soil volume early in the life-cycle, and to pro-actively match their growth to the available resources. We are currently trying to understand this phenomenon.

Plant-plant communication in the rhizosphere

Plants can detect each other through their root systems, and depending on the identity of the neighbours, may respond cooperatively, competitively or in a hostile manner. It is thought that plants can distinguish between close kin, distant kin and non-kin in this manner. However the signalling systems that underlie this perception, and the corresponding growth responses, are poorly characterised. We want to identify the mechanisms by which plants can detect and distinguish their neighbours.