News & Events

Congratulations to Professor Jane Langdale FRS


JaneLangdale.gif The Department of Plant Sciences is delighted to announce that Professor Jane Langdale has been elected Fellow of the Royal Society today (1st May 2015).

Full details are here:


Flora Graeca watercolour pigment analysis




Pigment analysis of one of Ferdinand Bauer's original Flora Graeca watercolours using Raman spectroscopic analysis. A collaborative research project with the Bodleian Libraries funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

More information can be found on page 4 of this article: (PDF).


Rosemary Wise presented with Sibthorpe Medal


Professor_Sir_Ghillean_Prance.jpg Sibthorpe_Medal_Presentation.jpg Sir Ghillean Prance FRS gave a lecture entitled A Passion for Plants: from the Rainforests of Brazil to Kew Gardens in the Department of Plant Science today, 22nd January 2015. He provided an exciting overview of his research on the floristic diversity of Amazonia in honour of Rosemary Wises's 50 years in the Department. In that time Rosemary has produced over 12,000 botanical illustrations and is currently working on Illustrations of plants in the genus Ipomoea.

Rosemary was then presented with the prestigious Sibthorpe Medal for lifetime contributions to Botany.


Forest Genomics: A major partnership between Université Laval and Oxford University


Forest_Genomics__A_major_partnership_between_Universite_Laval_and_Oxford_University.jpg As part of an economic mission taking place in Europe, Prime Minister Philippe Couillard announced in London a scientific and academic partnership between Université Laval and Oxford University. The objective of this partnership is to create an international consortium in forest genomics.

Spearheaded by Professor John MacKay, a world-renowned expert in the field, Wood Professor of Forest Science at Oxford University, the consortium will address the major scientific challenges involving the productivity and sustainability of both natural and managed forests. Expected outcomes include improved health and productivity of forests and their sustainable management. This partnership represents a major opportunity for Québec and Canada.

More details from:


Special seminar about "the father of genetics", J. G. Mendel


EvzenLukasMartinec.jpg Plant Sciences were privileged to hear a special seminar about "the father of genetics", J. G. Mendel, given by the Augustinian Abbot Mr Evzen Lukas Martinec. Abbot Martinec is the 6th direct successor of Mendel in the Old Brno Abbey in the Czech Republic.

The talk described Mendel's life, reasons for joining the Augustinian Order, his wide interest in natural sciences, and his lack of recognition for his unique discoveries with plant hybridisation during his life.

This seminar marked 150 years since Mendel's first public presentation of his work.


Case Study: Combating forest destruction through tree genetics


Forests are of great ecological importance: they shape the landscape, help to control erosion and water filtration, and provide habitat for large numbers of other species. In addition they provide us with wood, a highly important natural resource, making trees as valuable a crop as many of those that are grown for food. In the northern hemisphere natural forests are often 'harvested' for their wood, and new plantations established to replace the logged trees. As with any other crop, there is an increasing need to select strains of trees which are as productive as possible and will have the best chance of thriving.

Destruction of natural forests can be both environmentally and economically catastrophic, but it is not only man who has the potential to have adverse effects on forest health: forest pests also pose a serious threat. One of the most significant North American pests is the spruce budworm, a small moth whose larvae invade the growing shoots of spruce and fir trees, causing widespread devastation. From 1950 to 1993 a spruce budworm epidemic swept across eastern Canada, covering an area of almost a million square kilometres; the pest killed up to 58% of the trees it attacked, and had a disastrous impact on wood yields.

Modelling and predicting future outbreaks is essential, but currently this is difficult to achieve. Climate change is leading to major changes in insect populations and behaviour, and although some trees are naturally resistant to spruce budworm attack, the mechanisms controlling this were previously unknown and could not therefore be incorporated into models.

However, research by Professor John MacKay and colleagues has led to a breakthrough which could well provide a key to controlling future epidemics. The group (including Geneviève Parent, Gaby Germanos and Eric Bauce at Laval University, and Melissa Mageroy and Joerg Bohlmann at the University of British-Columbia) studied a ten-year localised outbreak of spruce budworm in a population of white spruce, a commercially important tree species in North America. Resistant trees produce high levels of a chemical which is toxic to the spruce budworm larvae. Critically, the group showed for the first time that this is linked to a single gene, which encodes an enzyme that makes the toxin from other chemicals in the trees' cells. Gene expression was a thousand times higher in resistant white spruce trees than in non-resistant trees. In addition, resistant trees timed their peak gene expression to coincide with the final larval stage, in which most of the damage occurs.

Professor MacKay and colleagues have shown these traits to be heritable, which has important implications for future forest management. It means that there is now a tool for the selection and breeding of white spruce trees which are most likely to be resistant to this highly destructive pest. Previously there was no basis on which to do this, and therefore there was no guarantee that new plantations would be better at surviving an epidemic than natural forest. The research also makes it possible to examine related tree species to see if they possess a similar protective genetic mechanism. Genomic selection of resistant strains is likely to be very much quicker than current tree breeding programmes, which can take up to 30 years to establish a successful new strain; as trees are slow-growing they require a test period of up to 15 years before desirable traits can be identified. Genomic selection can cut the test period down to 2 years and reduce the whole cycle to less than 10 years.

The impact of this research for both natural and planted forests is significant. Minimising the damage caused by such a serious pest will help to protect the environment and also have an important economic benefit by reducing serious losses suffered by the timber industry.

For more detail see: Mageroy, M.H., Parent, G.J., Germanos, G., Giguère, I., Delvas, N., Maaroufi, H., Bauce, É., Bohlmann, J., Mackay J.J. (2014) Expression of the beta-glucosidase gene PgΒglu-1 underpins natural resistance of white spruce against spruce budworm. Plant Journal, DOI: 10.1111/tpj.12699


Case Study: Helping crops to make their own fertiliser


Professor Phil Poole's research is unravelling the complex relationships that have evolved between plants and nitrogen-fixing bacteria. The results could help to solve the problem of how to feed the world's growing population.

Nitrogen is fundamental to the growth of every plant on earth. Without it, they cannot make the proteins and nucleic acids necessary for healthy development and production of seeds and fruit. Availability of nitrogen is the single biggest factor limiting the yield of all the crops grown on the planet.

Although our atmosphere is 78% nitrogen, plants cannot directly make use of this source because the nitrogen atoms are bonded strongly in pairs, making the gas virtually inert. The only organisms that are able to convert atmospheric nitrogen into usable compounds like ammonia are bacteria known as diazotrophs. Some plants such as legumes (the pea and bean family) are able to harness the abilities of these nitrogen-fixing bacteria, accommodating them in living plant cells within special root nodules, and providing them with food in exchange for ammonia – essentially making their own fertiliser. Some legumes can fix more than 200 kg of nitrogen per hectare per year.

However, farming based solely on crop rotation and organic methods can no longer feed the world. Many of our most important crops (including maize, rice, wheat and sorghum) do not have the natural ability to form relationships with nitrogen fixing bacteria, and their production is entirely dependent on man-made nitrate-based fertilisers, which are now responsible for supporting an estimated third of the world's population. Continued use of nitrates at this level is unsustainable because of the environmental impacts, including contamination of groundwater and contribution to climate change through creation of greenhouse gases. With the global population forecast to rise still further, alternatives are urgently needed.

Professor Phil Poole is an expert in the symbiotic relationships that have developed between legumes and diazotrophs. The signalling mechanisms that enable a bacterium in the soil to alert a plant to its presence and the plant to accept infection by the bacterium are highly sophisticated. Together with a team of five other laboratories, Professor Poole is working to understand the biochemistry of these mechanisms and the genes that govern them. The goal is to be able to engineer interactions between microbes and plants such as wheat, so that our key crops can become nitrogen-fixing and will no longer need to depend on artificial fertilisers.

Another aim is to improve the nitrogen-fixing capabilities of existing legume crops. Some bacteria are good at colonising legumes, but poor at nitrogen fixing, and some legumes are much better than others at 'selecting' the best bacteria to fix nitrogen. One crop in particular, the common French bean, a staple in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, is not particularly good at adopting the 'right' kind of bacteria and so does not fix nitrogen very efficiently.

Professor Poole has pioneered a technique using a bacterial gene called lux, which can be triggered to produce luminescence. By splicing lux genes into bacteria and engineering the gene to respond to the presence of different chemicals, it becomes easy to see exactly what signalling is going on between the plant and the bacterium – the bacteria simply glow when the chemical under scrutiny is present. A similar method can be used to identify bacteria which are particularly good at fixing nitrogen, by adjusting the lux gene to create luminescence when the bacteria fix nitrogen.

Because the luminescence can be detected non-invasively as it is happening, huge amounts of time can be saved in identifying bacteria, which are good at both colonisation and fixing nitrogen, and plants which are good at selecting for these bacteria. Previously this could only be tested through crop trials of thousands of plants over long periods of time. Professor Poole's methods could enable crops like French beans to be selected or engineered to generate higher levels of ammonia and hence produce higher yields.

Historically, global population growth has been supported by discoveries that have enabled farmers to increase the amount of nitrogen available to their crops. The first breakthrough, crop rotation using beans and peas, was succeeded by fertilisers based first on guano and then on natural nitrate deposits from the Atacama Desert, until finally in the early 20th century Fritz Haber invented a process that could manufacture ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen gases. A century on from this, Professor Poole's research could help to solve the current 'nitrogen crisis' and give us crops which are both environmentally sustainable and high-yielding.

Bacteria glow when they start fixing nitrogen. The strength of the glow shows where the strongest fixation is taking place.


Case Study: Balancing conservation and commerce in the world's forests


Research into forest ecology at the University of Oxford has helped to reconcile the competing pressures of biodiversity and economic development in many parts of the developing world.

Natural forests in many parts of the developing world are under serious threat from logging, conversion to agriculture and mining. The tension between maintaining biodiversity and encouraging economic development can become acute, and a blanket requirement to 'protect forests' is unlikely to be successful in poorer countries with limited options for income generation.

Research led by Dr William Hawthorne, an expert in the ecology of the forests of Ghana, has helped to address this problem in many parts of the world, resulting in a major impact on forestry conservation and biodiversity. In 1996 Dr Hawthorne developed ways of identifying forest plants without requiring them to be in flower or fruit, which allowed even closely related species to be easily differentiated by non-specialists. He showed how, even on a fine scale, globally rare plants were clustered in 'hotspots', while heavily-exploited timber species were clustered in different areas, and tended to be well-dispersed and not globally rare.

Realising that effective mapping of forests could enable the preservation of areas with high concentrations of rare plants, whilst allowing logging to continue in other areas, Dr Hawthorne developed three 'biological Indices':

  1. The Bioquality Index, based on a 'Star' system of categorising species according to rarity (Black Star species are the most globally rare), and used to identify 'bioquality hotspots'.
  2. The Economic Index, used to identify the distribution of commercially exploitable trees.
  3. The Pioneer Index, used to quantify past disturbance, based on analysis of how different species regenerate after forest damage, such as logging or fire.

These indices were applied to results from large-scale 'Rapid Botanical Surveys' to assess species richness and threats within forest communities, and such surveys have now been used to prioritise and protect biodiversity hotspots not only in Ghana but across the globe.

In Ghana, the government introduced legislation to restrict logging in line with Hawthorne's 'Star' system, and initiated a large-scale project to conserve those areas of Ghanaian forest most important for biodiversity, identified using Hawthorne's Bioquality Index. Around 2,300 km2 of forest reserves were established (13% of the total forest network) and excluded from timber harvesting. To support the project Dr Hawthorne developed a user-friendly field guide to forest plants, now widely used in West Africa; and with colleagues in the Netherlands, a comprehensive and more technical guide to all the woody plants of Western Africa. In 2009 Ghana was the first country to sign a FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement, a voluntary scheme to ensure that only legally harvested timber is imported into the EU.

In Liberia, Dr Hawthorne's work has influenced mining practices. In 2010 the multinational mining company ArcelorMittal (AML) commissioned Dr Hawthorne's group to carry out a Bioquality assessment of the mountainous West Nimba region, a global biodiversity hotspot also rich in iron ore. As a result, AML made significant conservation decisions which have protected important forest sites.

Dr Hawthorne's methods have also been applied in many other African countries, as well as in Malaysia, Brunei, Mexico, Honduras, Chile and Trinidad and Tobago. His work has thus helped to reconcile the demand for the conservation of biodiversity with the need to support local agricultural and economic development in many parts of the world.

'[Dr Hawthorne's] work confirmed the biological importance of forests in northern Nimba from a global perspective. Botanical mapping … helps us to determine key areas of importance in planning our strategy for forest conservation and offsets. [The work also] identified priority species for plantation trials which are highly important to local communities who depend on these plants for medicine, food, and construction materials.'

John Howell, Environmental Adviser, ArcelorMittal Liberia

Research funded by: the Overseas Development Agency, the Department for International Development (DFID), the 6th EU Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (EU FP6), the Oxford Martin School and others.

Survey team members establishing the precise location of bioquality hotspots in Liberia's Nimba Mountains. Photo © W.D. Hawthorne


Lorna Casselton featured in Scientific American


Lorna Casselton celebrated as one of ten top female scientists who passed away in 2014 by Scientific American:


Research Assessment Exercise 2014: Biological Science at Oxford tops rankings


The results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 were published today and confirm the University of Oxford’s world leading position in biological sciences. We ranked top for the volume of world-leading research.

The University as a whole also ranked top with the largest volume of word leading research in the UK.

Our REF Impact case was developed by William Hawthorne and highlights the contribution Williams research has had on sustainable forestry in West Africa:

You can find out more about Oxford’s results at


Re-discovered diaries shed new light on one of the world's most studied woods


The re-discovered diaries and photographs of ecological pioneer Charles Elton have been digitised for the first time, providing a unique insight into the changing face of Oxford outdoor laboratory - Wytham Woods. Although the Woods were given to the University in 1942 little published information on what the Woods were actually like existed for the 1950s and 1960s. Fortunately Oxford's Museum of Natural History had stored the diaries detailing Elton's regular visits to Wytham from 1942 to 1965. These help paint a vivid and more complete picture of the woods' history and wildlife. The archives were transcribed and edited into downloadable, easily searchable electronic format by a volunteer during 2013-14, along with notes of visits to other sites in the region. The photographs accompanying the diaries reveal fascinating changes in ecologists as a species. The pictures show more ties on students, more smoking, the women regularly wear skirts for field work and some of the pictures reveal what today's leading ecologists looked like in their student days. The diaries also provide interesting insights into the events and management practices that have shaped Wytham Woods, and underline the importance of observational studies and long-term research.

Dr Keith Kirby will present an overview of the Elton diaries and their significance to the joint BES/SFE meeting on Thursday 11 December at the Grand Palais, Lille. "Most of us owe a great debt to those researchers who have gone before us: Newton described it as 'standing on the shoulders of giants'. I can express this in a slightly different way - once a month, for the last year I have literally been walking in the footsteps of one of ecology's giants, Charles Elton," says Dr Kirby.

Telephone: +44 755 728 2711

Image credits: left-hand colour images - K. J. Kirby, right-hand black & white images are reproduced with the permission of the Department of Zoology, Oxford

This exciting project would not have happened without the hard work of Caroline Pond, Nigel Fisher and Darren Mann.


New Oxford-China link in Plant Developmental Genetics


A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed on November 27th between President Jie Zhang (Shanghai Jiao Tong University, SJTU) and Professor Andrew Hamilton (Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford) to support ongoing collaboration in Plant Developmental Genetics and Neuronal Biology - areas which are a current focus for research in the two universities. The intention is to expand this collaboration to other areas in the field of Developmental Genetics and Biology. The MOU is the culmination of 5 year programme of visits and exchanges sponsored in part by the UK BBSRC and the Chinese "111" project. Oxford plant scientists have contributed to conferences, teaching and research in SJTU, and SJTU researchers have contributed to meetings organised in Oxford.

Our picture shows, front row, left to right: Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice Chancellor of University of Oxford; Professor Jie Zhang, President of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Back row, left to right: Professor Dabing Zhan, Vice Dean, School of Life Sciences and Biotechnology SJTU; Professor Hugh Dickinson, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford; Professor Zoltán Molnár, , Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, Oxford; Mr Ed Nash, International Strategy Officer, University of Oxford; Associate Professor Jin Xianmin, Department of Physics and Astronomy, SJTU.


Special Seminar - Technophobia vs. Technophilia: The Polarized Debate about our Food


*Special seminar on Wed 26 Nov 2014 given by Mike Mack, Chief Executive Officer of Syngenta, titled “Technophobia vs. Technophilia: The Polarized Debate about our Food”

  • Wed 26 Nov, 4pm, Zoology Lecture Theatre A

  • Hosted by the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, with Plants for the 21st Century Institute

  • The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception

  • Everyone is welcome.

Michael Mack

Functions in Syngenta

Chief Executive Officer (CEO), executive Director
Member of the Chairman's & Governance Committee and the Corporate Responsibility Committee

Professional background

Michael Mack was Chief Operating Officer of Seeds (2004–2007) and Head of Crop Protection, NAFTA Region (2002–2004) for Syngenta. Prior to this, he was President of the Global Paper Division of Imerys SA, a French mining and pigments concern, from the time of its merger in 1999 with English China Clays Ltd., where he was Executive Vice President, Americas and Pacific Region, in addition to being an executive Director of the Board. From 1987 to 1996, he held various roles with Mead Corporation. Michael Mack was Chairman and President of the Board of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce from 2009 to 2012, and is currently a member of the Board.

Michael Mack has a degree in Economics from Kalamazoo College in Michigan, studied at the University of Strasbourg, and has an MBA from Harvard University.


Prof. Jackie Hunter visits Plant Sciences to discuss strategic priorities for UK plant and microbial science (Nov. 21st 2014)


Professor Jackie Hunter, CEO of BBSRC, led a delegation from BBSRC to the Department of Plant Sciences, to discuss the future of plant and microbial and to learn more about how the Department’s discoveries can contribute to the UK economy and contribute to sustainable economic development world wide.

Jackie was keen to highlight the importance of curiosity-driven fundamental research and the importance of identifying ways to maximize the impact of the discoveries that emerge from blue skies research.

Jackie got a flavor of the science and discovery from academic staff members, post docs and research students. Three areas of research and innovation were showcased. These demonstrated how investment in research can help humanity address current and future challenges.

Professor Phil Poole and his team demonstrated how understanding the biology of nitrogen fixing bacteria can contribute to the development of cereals that make their own nitrogen and would need less nitrogen-containing fertilizer. He also highlighted recent technical breakthroughs in his lab that has allowed the assessment of bacterial diversity in farmers’ fields for the first time. This led to a discussion on precision agriculture and how the UK can harness the potential of research like Phil’s to enhance UK crop yields at the same time as decreasing environmental impact.

Professor Renier van der Hoorn highlighted how research being carried out on his European Research Council-funded award called GREEN PROTEASE, will increase the efficiency of protein production in plants. Given that the first vaccine against the Ebola virus was produced in plants, his technology has the potential to increase proteins yield and decrease waste during the production process.

John MacKay highlighted the potential of capturing natural genetic variation in trees using genomics to protect forests from disease and to support tree improvement. John described his recent discovery of a gene that controls the resistance of white spruce to bud worm, a major pathogen of North American conifer forests. John highlighted how there is no need for genetically modified spruce - there is sufficient genetic variation in wild populations of trees to breed for resistance. John outlined his strategic vision in using genomics to develop strategies for dealing with important invasive diseases such as ash dieback in the UK.

The Department's partnership with the Business Development team and Isis Innovations Ltd (the University of Oxford owned technology transfer company) featured in the discussions about maximizing research impact. Examples of the Department's research funded by the BBSRC Sparking Impact program demonstrated how relatively small financial inputs could build on blue skies discoveries to stimulate entirely new areas of industrial research and collaboration.


Graduate Symposium Prizes 2014



This week the Department’s annual Graduate Symposium took place, showcasing the breadth of research across Plant Sciences. Our third year D.Phil. students gave research seminars, and the second year students presented posters.

Congratulations go to Ivey Geoghegan and Olga Sedelnikova who won the prizes for best talk and best poster, respectively.

Ivey Geoghegan’s project investigates the role of chitin deacetylation in the rice blast fungus, Magnaporthe oryzae.

Olga Sedelnikova’s project aims to identify developmental regulators of C4 Kranz anatomy.


Grass species and their role in food security, soil stabilisation and golf courses


Stephen Harris took part in a BBC World Service radio broadcast discussing grass species and their role in food security, soil stabilisation and golf courses.

The broadcast is available at


Research fellow opportunity at the University of Toronto-Scarborough


The Cadotte lab at the University of Toronto-Scarborough is looking for a
Postdoctoral researcher in ‘ecological dynamics in urban ecosystems’.

The background:
Urban green areas provide important ecosystem function and services to large
human populations. While there have been numerous experiments assessing the
effect of diversity on ecosystem function, there has not been a comprehensive
attempt to apply these principles to existing ecosystems. Urban green areas
represent a number of different ecosystem types and different management
policies that directly or indirectly affect species diversity, thus affecting
functioning within green areas. At a larger scale, a diversity of types of green
areas may provide greater service than repeated, singular types of green areas.
Given this diversity and the fact that municipalities depend on the ecosystem
functions and services provided by urban green areas, it is important to
understand the biological components of ecosystem function.
I am looking for a postdoctoral research fellow to join our team to address
questions broadly related to terrestrial diversity and ecosystem function in urban
areas. Examples of the types of research questions of interest include: 1) how do
plant invasions influence (disrupt or enhance) the ecosystem functions provided
by urban green areas? 2) How are plant-soil feedbacks affected by urban
environments? 3) How does plant diversity (taxonomic, functional, or
phylogenetic) influence pollinators (diversity or service provisioning) in urban
green areas. Or any other related question.

The system:
Toronto is uniquely situated to be the focus of urban ecology research as it has a
number of large green areas, with the flagship being the new Rouge Urban
National Park, situated on the University of Toronto-Scarborough’s doorstep.
Further, Toronto contains several replicate watersheds, each with large ravine
forests, semi-wild parks, maintained parks, and small green areas. Projects will
necessarily involve developing partnerships with local governmental and non-
governmental organizations, and the work will be put into a broader context that
should benefit outside groups.

The person:
I am looking for a terrestrial community or ecosystem ecologist with broad
ecological interests. Desirable skills/interests include spatial analyses,
quantitative modelling, plant-insect interactions, soil biodiversity, functional or
phylogenetic diversity, and R programming. Candidates should have strong:
conceptual/theoretical understanding of ecological processes; oral and written
communication skills; publication record; and an interest in outreach. The
candidate should have completed, or nearly completed, a PhD in ecology or
related disciplines. The successful candidate will be expected to provide
leadership in the lab, and interact with graduate and undergraduate students.
The Cadotte lab also has a strong commitment to outreach, running programs
with local elementary schools, and the candidate is expected to participate.

The place:
The University of Toronto-Scarborough (UTSC) is located on the eastern edge of
Toronto, and makes up one of the three campuses of the University of Toronto.
The tri-campus Ecology and Evolutionary Biology program, which also includes
the Royal Ontario Museum (, is an excellent
department with more than 50 faculty members
( The candidate will be housed
at UTSC, in the Biological Sciences department
(, which sits on a forested ravine, and is a
relatively short commute to the Toronto city centre. UTSC is an exciting place to
do research, with a relatively young and active research community, and
excellent students. Toronto is Canada’s largest city and is extremely culturally
diverse, full of parks and green areas, and hosts numerous cultural, culinary, and
music events.

The position:
The start date is flexible, but May 2015 is preferred, and the position is for two
years –second year contingent on first year performance. The salary is
$40,000/year, and comes with a benefits package. Postdocs are unionized at the
University of Toronto.

The application:
Applicants are required to send an updated CV, two representative reprints or
preprints, a cover letter and/or statement describing the candidate’s past
experience and accomplishments, interests (generally and with respect to the
specifics of this position), and the names and e-mails of at least two references.
These materials should be combined into a single pdf document and sent to Applications will be accepted until September 19th,


ISI highly cited researchers for 2014


Lee Sweetlove and Ester Rabbinowitsch have been recognised as ISI highly cited researchers for 2014


ERC award to Renier van der Hoorn


The European Research Council has awarded an ERC consolidator grant to Dr. Renier van der Hoorn for his 'GreenProteases' proposal with the full title: 'The proteolytic machinery of the plant apoplast: from basic understanding to improved recombinant protein production'. The EU will sponsor this project with 2 million euro for a period of 5 years. The ERC team of Dr van der Hoorn will use different protease depletion strategies to identify the role and substrates of secreted proteases and improve recombinant protein production in plants.


Dr Keith Kirby Awarded Top Eco Medal


Renowned woodland expert awarded prestigious ecology medal in recognition of a lifetime’s work

This year the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) will present its most prestigious award, the Institute Medal to Dr Keith Kirby FCIEEM, a woodland ecologist at Oxford University, in recognition of his contribution to driving forward woodland conservation in the UK.

The Award will be presented by Andrew Sells, the newly appointed Chair of Natural England, on Thursday 26 June 2014 at Birmingham Botanical Gardens at the 2014 CIEEM Awards ceremony, which recognises outstanding achievements by organisations and individuals in the fields of ecology, environmental management and sustainability.

Regarded by his peers as the ‘oracle on woodlands’, Kirby’s career has spanned nearly forty years. He gained a first class honours degree in Agricultural and Forestry Sciences from Oxford University in 1973, and went on to complete a doctorate on multiple aspects of bramble ecology in 1976. Since retiring from Natural England in 2012, Kirby has returned to Oxford University in the Department of Plant Sciences where he continues to write about woodland conservation.

He co-edited Wytham Woods (OUP) based on Oxford’s ecological field laboratory which is home to some of the longest running field research in conservation management. Here, Kirby has commissioned and conducted research which has closely monitored the impact of rising deer numbers on woodland environments, and how tree canopies may slow the pace of climate change at ground level.

Following the announcement of his award Keith Kirby commented, “I am very pleased to be honoured in this way. I have worked in woodland ecology for nearly forty years, yet that is merely a tenth of the time it would take a single oak tree to reach biological maturity. Trees have been under threat from mankind since the invention of the first axe, and natural disasters such as the great storm of 1987 still leave an ecological legacy today, making long term monitoring an essential part of woodland conservation.”

Sally Hayns, Chief Executive of CIEEM says, “The Institute Medal is CIEEM’s highest accolade and we are delighted to be presenting it to Keith Kirby this year. He has dedicated his life and career to topical and applied research on issues such as climate change and tree disease, basing his theories on sound woodland ecology which has made him a highly reputable and sought after voice in the field. He leads by example, minimising his own personal footprint wherever possible, and providing guidance to young emerging ecologists.”

Kirby has worked as a woodland ecologist for the government’s statutory nature conservation agencies – in their various incarnations, firstly with the Nature Conservancy Council, then English Nature, and most recently Natural England – developing national policies in forestry and advising the UK government on forest sustainability and rewilding. He is also a Fellow of both CIEEM and the Institute of Chartered Foresters, while being a long-serving member of the British Ecological Society and the Royal Forestry Society.

In academic circles he has actively engaged with students providing guidance, teaching and mentoring on projects from a number of prestigious institutions, including University College London, Birkbeck University of London, Imperial College London and the University of Liverpool.

Emma Goldberg and Richard Jefferson, both from Natural England, jointly nominated Keith Kirby for the award, stating, “Keith is widely respected by his peers in the forestry industry as the oracle on woodlands. His guidance and teaching of individual students, courses, and talks to the general public, and his wisdom over policy-related matters, mean that he has driven woodland conservation forward hugely over the course of his career.”

For more information about the CIEEM awards please visit:


Carbohydrates boost trees drought survival chances


A BBC Science news item at highlighted a study co-authored by Professor Andy Hector suggesting that drought survival of tropical tree seedlings is enhanced by non-structural carbohydrate levels.

The article was published in 'Nature Climate Change' (doi:10.1038/nclimate2281


New plant pathogen species named to honour Dr. Molly Dewey


A new species of the genus Botrytis (grey moulds), the first new specialised pathogen of this genus to be discovered in Europe for many years, has been named to honour the work on this genus by Dr Molly Dewey.

Micrograph of the sporulating structure (conidophore carrying macroconidia) of Botrytis deweyae
and Dr Molly Dewey

Botrytis deweyae was identified from foliar material of Hemerocallis (daylily) with a mysterious disease that has recently emerged in cultivation. The paper, by Grant-Downton et al., was recently published in PLoS One ( and involved collaboration between researchers in this department with Prof. Jan van Kan at Wageningen University and Prof. Josefina Rodriguez-Enriquez at La Laguna University.


Professor Liam Dolan elected Fellow to the Royal Society


The Department is very proud to announce that Professor Liam Dolan has been elected as a Fellow to the Royal Society in recognition of his outstanding contributions to our understanding of the development and evolution of land plant rooting systems.



Eutrophication weakens stabilizing effects of diversity in natural grasslands


A new publication from Andy Hector demonstrates that

Eutrophication weakens stabilizing effects of diversity in natural grasslands




Members of the department were united today in remembrance of Professor Lorna Casselton CBE FRS. Her funeral provided an occasion to mourn her passing and to celebrate her life.
Lorna was an outstanding scientist whose passion and enthusiasm inspired all around her; ten years after her retirement she frequently came into the Department to talk to postdocs and students about their research. She was always encouraging and could always offer practical suggestions to solve any problems presented.
Above all, Lorna was a highly respected colleague and friend to many of us. She had been a member of the Plant Sciences Department for over 20 years and was proud to call it her base when she was Vice President of The Royal Society after her retirement.
She will be greatly missed.


'Tree of life' distances are no shortcut to conservation


Attempts to preserve the most diverse range of biological features that target which organisms to save based on distances on a 'tree of life' may not succeed, Oxford University research suggests.

Some conservation strategies assume that the evolutionary distances between species on a phylogenetic 'tree of life' (a branching diagram of species popularised by Charles Darwin) can be used to predict how diverse their biological features will be. These distances are then used to select which species to conserve in order to maximise interesting biological features - such as potentially useful drug compounds and resilience to climate change.

But a new analysis of data from 223 studies of animals, plants, and fungi, shows that methods based on such distances are often no better at conserving interesting biological features than picking species at random. A report of the research is published this week in the journal Diversity and Distributions.

"Whilst 'close neighbours' on the branches of the tree of life are likely to share more biological features than distant ones, we found that you only have to move a short distance away before predictions about how much more diverse an organism's features should be are no better than a random choice," said Dr Robert Scotland of Oxford University's Department of Plant Sciences. "Much of this may be down to parallel or convergent evolution that sees similar biological features - such as eyes and wings - evolving independently again and again throughout the history of life."

The new analysis suggests that phylogenetic distance by itself is not an adequate way of prioritising which organisms are most dissimilar to target for conservation.

"Maximising biological feature diversity is clearly important to conservation but you won't achieve this if you don’t select the right range of species, and our study shows that you are unlikely to select the right range of species if you use phylogenetic distance," said Dr Scotland. "What our work suggests is that we need better, more nuanced, methods for identifying feature diverse species to underpin conservation strategies."

For further information contact Dr Robert Scotland on +44 (0)1865 275059 or email

Alternatively contact the Oxford University News & Information Office on +44 (0)1865 283877 or email


The Plant Sciences BRAHMS Project is highlighted in February's Blueprint magazine


The Oxford University BLUEPRINT staff magazine for February 2014 carries an article which highlights the work of The BRAHMS Project run by Denis Filer in the Department of Plant Sciences.

The article can be viewed online at or downloaded as a PDF from

More about BRAHMS is available on the BRAHMS website.


Land-use intensity and the effects of organic farming on biodiversity: a hierarchical meta-analysis


A paper entitled "Land-use intensity and the effects of organic farming on biodiversity: a hierarchical meta-analysis" is published today in the Journal of applied Ecology by Sean L. Tuck, Camilla Winqvist, Flávia Mota, Johan Ahnström, Lindsay A. Turnbull, Janne Bengtsson

DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12219


We analysed 30 years of studies comparing the number of species on organic and conventional farms. We found that, on average, organic farming increases the number of species by a third. This shows that organic farming is a tried and tested method for increasing biodiversity on farmlands. Organic farming is therefore an important tool in reversing continued declines of formerly common species in developed nations.

Read more in the University of Oxford press release at


Secrets of potato blight could help farmers fight back


Scientists have discovered vital clues as to how the pathogen responsible for the Irish potato famine adapted to spread between different plant species.

Read the full press release at

A report of the research is published today, January 31st 2014, in Science:

Effector Specialization in a Lineage of the Irish Potato Famine Pathogen
Suomeng Dong, Remco Stam, Liliana M. Cano, Jing Song, Jan Sklenar, Kentaro Yoshida, Tolga O. Bozkurt, Ricardo Oliva, Zhenyu Liu, Miaoying Tian, Joe Win, Mark J. Banfield, Alexandra M. E. Jones, Renier A. L. van der Hoorn, and Sophien Kamoun
Science 31 January 2014: 343 (6170), 552-555. [DOI:10.1126/science.1246300]


To value our ancient woods we must estimate the cost of 'irreplaceable'


An article by Keith Kirby, University of Oxford published at The Conversation.

The threat to Britain’s ancient woodland has been much discussed recently, the suggestion being that where they are lost to housing development they might be replaced with new woods through biodiversity offsetting schemes.

This issue will need to be addressed, particularly in relation to HS2, the route of which is likely to cut through or close to about 60 ancient woods.

So what makes ancient woodland different? After all, 40 years ago the term was virtually unknown, even in conservation circles.


Read the complete article.


Oxford Plants 400 website


A web site has been launched which will describe 400 plants that have links to Oxford, as part of the run up to the 400th anniversary of the Department, Botanic Garden and Herbaria, in 2021 .

A new plant will be uploaded each week. The first plant in the countdown, yew, was selected because it is the oldest living plant in the Botanic Garden and has important medicinal uses today.

As Stephen Harris says “We're looking to the future and would like to use the next 400 weeks to showcase plants in innovative fashions, present new research and build on the foundations created by the collections over the past 400 years."


BBC Radio Oxford interviews about the Botanic Garden and the Department of Plant Sciences


On Friday 22/11/13, BBC Radio Oxford broadcast a series of interviews on the Botanic Garden and the Department of Plant Sciences. Listen hereto Liam (1:2:02 - 1:25:26 and 1:50:25 – 1:54:48) and Alison Foster (2:51:19 – 2:54:00, stops prematurely).


Wytham woods featured on Countryfile


Countryfile looks at the part landscape has played in scientific breakthroughs. Wytham Woods, Oxford University and the legacy of Charles Elton is discussed.


Hind Rattan Award 2014


Congratulations are in order for Jagadis Gupta – he’s the recipient of a Hind Rattan Award 2014 from the NRI Welfare Society of India.


Trees 'shield vulnerable species from climate change'


Forests with dense canopies create a microclimate that protects a variety of cold-adapted plant species from warming air temperatures, a study has shown.


Graduate Symposium Award Winners



A Graduate Symposium took place at the end of September, showcasing the breadth of research being undertaken by our graduate students.

Votes were cast for the best seminar and poster, with awards from Sigma and Thermo Scientific.

This year’s winners were:

Constantine Garagounis – Sigma award for best seminar.

Victor Jones – Thermo Scientific award for best poster.


Hunting species: not just a numbers game


The University Press office Science Blog on Robert Scotland and colleagues' paper published in New Phytologist is available at:


Are Ash trees coping with the spread of Ash dieback in Britain?


David Boshier took part in an investigation, broadcast on BBC Radio 4:


Fascination of Plants day


The department ran a very successful set of demonstrations at the Fascination of Plants day, held at Harcourt Arboretum. The stands were popular with lots of visitors learning about the work undertaken in the Department. Thanks to Heather and Clemence and the members of the department who manned the stands with such enthusiasm. At least one visitor felt moved to write about her experiences, and even the sun shone!


G E blackman lecture given by Scott Poethig from the University of Pennsylvania


Scott Poethig from the University of Pennsylvania gave the G E Blackman lecture this afternoon. As plants age they go through distinct phases that are defined by changes in their morphology and physiology. This is shown clearly in ivy, where the juvenile leaves are pointed and the adult leaves rounded. Using painstaking genetics, Scott’s lab discovered that two highly conserved micro RNAs regulate these phase changes. More recently he showed that the same microRNAs control phase change in woody plants like Acacia. This indicates that an ancient microRNA network controls phase change in flowering plants and the same mechanism operates in short lived plants like Arabidopsis and long lived woody trees like acacia.


New Professor of Plant Microbiology


Phil Poole will join the Department as Professor of Plant Microbiology 1st September 2013.

Phil is currently a project leader at the John Innes Centre and has made ground breaking discoveries about the physiology of symbiotic bacteria.


Finalist in BBSRC “Impact” award for 2013


The Department of Plant Sciences was one of six finalists selected in the BBSRC’s “Activating Impact” competition, part of the BBSRC’s “Fostering Innovation” awards for 2013. The awards are designed to raise awareness of how biosciences can contribute to society and the economy, and Plant Sciences, together with Oxford’s Research Services and Isis Innovation, was recognized for the teamwork that supported research by Professor Sarah Gurr. It is hoped that Professor Gurr’s research will produce a safe and effective antifungal to treat major crops, and the behind-the-scenes work in the Department, for example, to help with the contracts this has required, came to the attention of the selection panel. There is more information about the competition here



Graduate student presentations


Last month 5 of our first year graduate students gave presentations to a group of Administrative and Technical support staff within the department.

The presentations were held at the Oxford Botanic Garden and gave the students the opportunity to showcase their research to a non-specialist audience, highlighting the real-world relevance of their DPhil projects. (This session formed part of their assessment module entitled "Getting the public excited about your science".)

The afternoon was a great success and was rounded off with tea and cake in the Conservatory at the Oxford Botanic Garden.



How the daffodil got its 'trumpet'


The daffodil is one of the few plants with a 'corona', a crown-like structure also referred to as the 'trumpet'. New research suggests that the corona is not an extension of the petals as previously thought, but is a distinct organ sharing more genetic identity with stamens, the pollen-producing reproductive organs.

The origin of the corona has long been a subject of debate in botany, and in the 1930s botanist Agnes Arber claimed that it was an extension from the petals. With its colourful petal-like appearance, it's easy to see why this was believed for so long. Yet by studying the corona's development and genetic information, this new study has shown that it is in fact related to stamens.

Dr Robert Scotland of the University of Oxford led the research, and was supported by colleagues at Harvard University, the United States Department of Agriculture and the University of Western Australia. The researchers were funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and the United States National Science Foundation. The study is published online in The Plant Journal.

By studying the development of daffodil flowers, the researchers found that the corona only begins to form after the other parts of the flower are fully established. 'This shows that the corona could not be a straightforward modification of either petals or stamens,' explains Dr Scotland, 'Since it develops independently of both, it is more accurately described as a separate organ.'

The different parts of daffodil flowers are located on a small cup-like platform termed the 'hypanthium'.

The researchers analysed genetic activity in all parts of the daffodil flower, and found that daffodil coronas were genetically similar to the stamens and hypanthium, but not the petals.

'We found that the corona develops from the hypanthium, and is not simply an extension of the petals or stamens,' says Dr Scotland, 'The corona is an independent organ, sharing more genetic identity with stamens, and which develops after the other organs are fully established.'


Funded scholarships available


Funded scholarships are available for students from Africa, Asia and South America


Professor Sarah Gurr and Dr Keith Kirby discuss ash die back disease.


Professor Sarah Gurr and Dr Keith Kirby outlined the challenges posed by ash die back disease to UK forestry on BBC Radio 4's Farming Today programme broadcast on Saturday November 3rd.

The podcast remains available for download until 8th November 2012 from the BBC's website at


Professor Lorna Ann Casselton awarded the CBE


We are delighted that Professor Lorna Ann Casselton has been awarded the CBE for her services to research and for her role as Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society. Very many congratulations, Lorna!


BBSRC announces new Council members


Three new members have been appointed to the Council of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) by the Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts.

The new members are:

  • Professor Sarah Gurr

  • Professor David Richardson

  • Professor Tim Wheeler

The appointments are with effect from 1 April 2012 and will run until 31 March 2016.

More here:


Plant Collecting


In this week's Science, the online Careers section, there is an article on Plant Collecting which includes John Wood and Robert Scotland. The piece is a result of Robert and John's with others recent paper on big hitting plant collectors.


Plant Sciences Team Accepted for Biotechnology YES


Congratulations go to DPhil Students Astrid Woollard, Vincenzo Crescente and Qi Qin, and post docs, Brendan O'Leary and Saher Mehdi who have been accepted forThe Biotechnology YES (Young Entrepreneurs Scheme). The team has been selected as participants in a workshop based at Syngenta as part of this competition.

The competition has been developed to raise awareness of the commercialisation of bioscience ideas among postgraduate students/postdoctoral scientists and is organised jointly by the University of Nottingham Institute for Enterprise and Innovation (UNIEI) and the Business and Innovation Unit at Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

More information can be found on the The Biotechnology YES website and on the BBSRC's website at


David Attenborough Visited Oxford University Herbarium


David Attenborough visited Oxford University Herbarium and the Sherardian Library of Plant Taxonomy on the 16th February 2012 to view the Fauna Graeca. The Fauna Graeca is an unpublished collection of folio-sized animal watercolours made by the artist Ferdinand Bauer when he accompanied John Sibthorp, the third Sherardian Professor of Botany, on his tour of the eastern Mediterranean in 1786-87.


images of the Fauna Graeca can be found at


Half of species found by great plant hunters


A report by Robert Scotland and John Wood of this department in collaboration with scientists from Earthwatch Institute, Natural History Museum, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Missouri Botanical Garden showing that more than 50% of the world's plant species have been discovered by 2% of plant collectors has been published this week in a Proceedings of the Royal Society B paper.

Oxford University have issued a press release providing commentary and background information.

Daniel P. Bebber, Mark A. Carine, Gerrit Davidse, David J. Harris, Elspeth M. Haston, Malcolm G. Penn, Steve Cafferty, John R. I. Wood and Robert W. Scotland
Big hitting collectors make massive and disproportionate contribution to the discovery of plant species
Proc R Soc B 2012 : rspb.2011.2439v1-rspb20112439 (DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2011.2439).


First land plants chilled the Earth


In a paper publishsed in Nature Geosciences today Liam Dolan and co-workers demonstrated that the evolution of the first land plants caused dramatic climate change 450 million years ago.


Kirsty Monk joins forces with local school to bring science to life for children


Kirsty Monk, in collaboration with Mrs Geerthi Ahilan, Science co-ordinator at St Ebbe’s C.E. (Aided) Primary School have won a Royal Society Partnership Grant, worth £2896 for their study, "War and Peace: Species interactions on Hogacre Common".

Children from all years from foundation stage to year 6 will be involved in this exciting project to assess and interrogate the biodiversity on and ecosystem services provided by hogacre common. This 11 acre plot of old private sports field has been leased to the community by Corpus Christi College and contains areas of grassland (managed and unmanaged), scrubland, woodland and waterways. In collaboration with Low Carbon Oxford, St Ebbe's Primary School aims to convert this diverse area into a rich community resource. By partnering with Kirsty Monk, the children will experience all aspects of an ecological investigation, from planning, sampling and data collection to data manipulation, analysis and conclusion drawing. This project will meet the learning requirements of all ages through stratified tasks, incorporating art, mathematics and literacy as well as science, and involving partnership with New Hinksey Primary school and Grandpont Childrens Centre, both of which are part of the same community. This will be an invaluable project to both the schools and the local community who will benefit from a greater understanding of the biodiversity of the common and the enhancement resulting from the restoration and conservation aspects of the project.


Maize gene could lead to bumper harvest


The discovery of a new ‘provisioning’ gene in maize plants that regulates the transfer of nutrients from the plant to the seed could lead to increased crop yields and improve food security.

Long-running work carried out by researchers in this department in collaboration with researchers at Warwick University on the MEG1 gene of maize has just been published in Current Biology:

Liliana M. Costa, Jing Yuan, Jacques Rouster, Wyatt Paul, Hugh Dickinson, and Jose F. Gutierrez-Marcos . (2012) Maternal Control of Nutrient Allocation in Plant Seeds by Genomic Imprinting.

Also reported in:

Nature Reviews Genetics, | doi:10.1038/nrg3175, 31st January 2012 Research Highlight: "Development: Parental influences on plant development" by Hannah Stower PDF link:

Current Biology - 7 February 2012 (Vol. 22, Issue 3, pp. R93-R95) "Endosperm Imprinting: A Child Custody Battle?" by Philip W. Becraft PDF link:

Science, Volume 335, Number 6069, Issue of 10 February 2012 Editors' Choice "Genetics: Mom’s in Charge” by Laura M. Zahn PDF link:


Lizzie Cooke wins a prize at the Young Systematics Forum 2011


Congratulations to Lizzie Cooke for winning second prize for her presentation at the Young Systematics Forum 2011 held at the Natural History Museum, London. This event was attended by 150 delegates from 20 countries.Details of YSF can be seen at:


Robert Scotland elected as next President of the Systematics Association


Robert Scotland has just been elected the next President of the Systematics Association to run from 2012-2014.


Penny Sarchet wins The Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize 2011


Congratulations to Penny Sarchet who has won the professional scientists' category in the inaugral WellcomeTrust/Guardian/Observer Science Writing Prize competition.

For full details see:


NTBG recognizes Renowned British-Australian Botanist



Professor David Mabberley examines a fruit of Citrus medica
Photo © Director and Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) has named renowned British-Australian botanist Prof. David J. Mabberley as the recipient of the prestigious 2011 Robert Allerton Award for Excellence in Tropical Botany or Horticulture. The award will be presented at a ceremony in San Francisco on September 18.

Read the full press release. (pdf document)


Artist in residence, Angela Palmer, receives thanks from The Whitehouse



As part of Michelle Obama's trip to Oxford, school girls from the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school in London, which is championed by the First Lady, visited the Ghost Forest on a tour organised by the White House and Oxford University.

The Department of Plant Sciences Artist in Residence, Angela Palmer, recently received correspondence from the White House thanking her for her help in making the visit possible.

See for more details.


A shot in the arm for biofuels


Highly stress-tolerant agave plants, such as those used in the production of tequila, could provide an important biofuel feedstock for cultivation on marginal agricultural land. A comparative life-cycle analysis of bioethanol production shows that agave plants are likely to be at least comparable – and perhaps even superior – to corn, switchgrass and sugarcane in terms of energy and greenhouse-gas balances.


Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize 2011: Shortlist announced


The Wellcome Trust today reveals the shortlist for its inaugural Science Writing Prize in association with the ‘Guardian’ and the ‘Observer’.


Why plant 'clones' aren’t identical


A new study of plants that are reproduced by ‘cloning’ has shown why cloned plants are not identical.


Pollinators 'lured away by farms'


A study challenges the idea that areas like farmland provide pollinating insects with a "corridor" between fragmented habitats.


Biofuels study gives clue to forest ecosystems - Dr Sarah Watkinson


The genome of a dry rot fungus has revealed how it can cause severe damage to buildings. The findings could help in the development of biofuels and may explain how conifer forests evolved.

Read the full story...


Irene Manton Prize awarded to Tiina Särkinen


TinaSarkinen.jpgCongratulations to Tiina Särkinen who has been awarded the Irene Manton Prize for her D.Phil thesis entitled Historical Assembly of Seasonally Dry Tropical Forest Diversity on the Andes which she completed in 2010. The Irene Manton Prize is awarded by the Linnean Society for the best doctoral thesis in botany examined at a U.K. university during the previous academic year. Tiina is currently working as a post-doctoral researcher at the Natural History Museum in London.


60 seconds with... Will Hawthorne


Will Hawthorne, James Martin fellow, Institute of Plants for the 21st century and a member of the Department of Plant Sciences recorded an interview for the series of micro-interviews with leading figures from Oxford University entitled '60 seconds with...'.

A transcript and video of the interview can be viewed at


Media Fellowship Awarded to Dr Lee sweetlove


Dr Lee Sweetlove has been awarded a Media Fellowship by the British Science Association ( The British Science Association Media Fellowships are intended to create a greater awareness and understanding of the workings of the media among practising scientists, social scientists, clinicians and engineers. Lee is one of 10 media fellows who will spend 3 to 8 weeks working with a national press, broadcast or internet journalist learning to work within the conditions and constraints of the media to produce accurate and well informed pieces about developments in science and then attend and report on the British Science Festival( Lee will hold his fellowship at Nature News.


Congratulations to Lee Sweetlove


Lee Sweetlove of the Department of Plant Sciences has won a grant from the Leverhulme Trust to explore the use of bacterial enzymes to detoxify cyanogenic plants.

More details can be found here:


John Pannell is promoted to Chair in Plant Evolutionary Biology


Congratulations to John Pannell on his recent promotion to Chair in Plant Evolutionary Biology in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne. John will be moving to Lausanne at the end of the summer. Whilst the department will miss John, we wish him all the best in Lausanne.


Presentation Prize for Lizzie Cooke


Congratulations to Lizzie Cooke who won 2nd prize for her presentation on the Systematics of Cardamine hirsuta at the Natural History Museum student Association Annual Conference that took place at the NHM in London on the 14th and 15th April, 2011


Prestigious award from the Royal Geographical Society Slawson Grant


FranLambrick.gifCongratulations go to Fran Lambrick, who has been awarded a prestigious award from the Royal Geographical Society Slawson Grant for her project 'Community Forestry in Cambodia: Ecological effects and Potential for Climate Mitigation Funding'. The awards are to "support geographical fieldwork involving development issues with a high social and economic value" and will contribute towards Fran's DPhil project on the effect of community forestry in Cambodia. There has been rapid global increase in the area of community forestry (CF), which aims to support livelihoods and conserve forests. Cambodia has recently expanded CF, but no independent studies have evaluated the results. Fran's research investigates the effect of CF on biodiversity, regeneration and biomass at 20 forest sites in central Cambodia, comparing CF sites with paired controls. Fran addresses the feasibility of using CF to deliver deforestation reductions, which could bring economic and social benefits to isolated communities. She also considers the ecological and social risks of creating a new carbon commodity market in the area. Well done Fran!


Elliot Meyerowitz to give Blackman Lecture in June


American biologist Elliot Meyerowitz will give this year’s GE Blackman Lecture in the Department of Plant Sciences on Thursday 9 June (4pm, Large Lecture Theatre). Elliot Meyerowitz served as Chair of the Biology Division at the California Institute of Technology for 10 years and is Inaugural Director of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the University of Cambridge while on leave from Caltech. He is a pioneer ofArabidopsisresearch and has trained many current leaders in modern plant biology. The Blackman Lectureship Trust was set up on the retirement in 1970 of Professor GE Blackman, Sibthorpian Professor of Rural Economy, and the first GE Blackman Lecture was given in 1971. Elliot Meyerowitz’s lecture is titled “Plant Computational Morphodynamics: Predictive Modelling of Plant Development”.


Robert Scotland interviewed by BBC



Robert Scotland has been interviewed by BBC radio today to explain some of the mysteries of the daffodil. The interviews, broadcast on several local radio stations, coincides with St David’s Day. More details can be found here:

Following on from Robert’s appearance on BBC television, he has now been broadcast on Radio 4 (Material World, 10th March 2011). The link to the iplayer podcast is shown below.


Kofi Annan visits the Ghost Forest project



Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, visited the Ghost Forest project at the Oxford University Natural History Museum whilst in Oxford to give a lecture on the future of Africa to celebrate the 700th anniversary of Exeter College. The Ghost Forest is the work of our resident artist, Angela Palmer. Further information about the project can be found here:


Harriet McWatters co-authors important study of Malaria Parasites


Anyone who has ever taken a trans-Atlantic flight is aware of jetlag. Most people dismiss it as no more than a temporary inconvenience, but for malaria
parasites infecting the red blood cells of their host, getting the timing right is, literally, a matter of life and death. Harriet McWatters, a chronobiologist from Oxford University, working with malaria researchers at the University of Edinburgh, has shown that if parasites do not align their lifecycle with the bodyclock of their host they suffer a 50% reduction in their ability to cause infection and spread disease.
The findings of this research may be found online in: A.J. O'Donnell, et al., "Fitness costs of disrupting circadian rhythms in malaria parasites," Proceedings of the Royal Society B, doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.2457.

Read more: Malaria parasites synch with host - The Scientist - Magazine of the Life Sciences


Thousands of plant species 'undiscovered in cupboards'



Dr Robert Scotland, Reader in Plant Systematics, talks to the BBC about the role of herbaria in relation to species discovery. The story can be read on the BBC News website at

Robert discussed his paper on Science in Action on the World Service on Friday 10th Dec. and a podcast is now available from the BBC website at

Other commentaries on the paper can be found at Nature, Kew Gardens and the University website, url's below.

[More Information]


Professor Miltos Tsiantis elected member of EMBO


Congratulations to Professor Miltos Tsiantis, who has been elected a member of The European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO). The EMBO nominates and elects new members every year, based on scientific excellence and in recognition of outstanding research contributions. EMBO membership comprises around 1,400 of the world’s foremost molecular biologists from all fields ranging from evolutionary to computational biology, neuroscience and plant biology. Members are elected on the basis of scientific excellence and provide their expertise to the various programmes co-ordinated by EMBO.

visit: for further details.


Sylva Scholarship Launched.


The Sylva scholarship is an initiative under the Sylva Foundation’s Science Programme, in partnership with the Department of Plant Sciences at Oxford. The initiative aims to support a research studentship at the Department which will in turn advance sustainable forest management through research and communication.

The theme of the scholarship is “Healthy Trees and Productive Forests”. The 2010 Sylva Scholar is Kirsty Monk, whose research title is “The consequences of management and climate change for ecosystem function: a case study of cord-forming fungi in English woodlands.”

Further information about the Sylva Scholarship may be found here:


Artist in Residence; Angela Palmer


Welcome to Angela Palmer, who is our new Artist in Residence. Angela is the artist who created the Ghost Forest, currently on display on the lawn of Oxford University Museum of Natural History. More details about Angela's work can be found here: and information about the Ghost Forest can be found here:


Penny Sarchet turns her hand to science blogging


Penny Sarchet, graduate student in Plant Sciences studying The Genetic Basis of Explosive Pod Shatter in Cardamine hirsuta; has written an article on the Herbarium and biodiversity work taking place in the Department. This has been published on the University's Science blog. Please see the article here:


Lorna and the Astronauts


Professor Lorna Casselton, Emeritus Professor of Fungal Genetics and Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, met Astronauts who had recently returned from the Atlantis 123 flight to the International Space Station. Lorna received back a piece of wood from Isaac Newton's apple tree that had been taken to the International Space Station in May. One of the 6 astronauts was British-born Piers Sellers, who took both the wood and a picture of Isaac Newton to the Space Station on behalf of the Royal Society. This photograph was taken in the atrium of the Royal Society, where the the world's first international satellite hangs.astronautsatriumcomp.jpg


Congratulations to Dr Lee Sweetlove


Lee Sweetlove is part of an international consortium that has been awarded 1.1 million Euros through the ERASYSBio Plus scheme to work on a multi-scale model of tomato fruit growth and metabolism. The consortium consists of 6 partner laboratories from the University of Oxford (Sweetlove), Oxford Brookes University, The University of Bordeaux, INRA Avignon, Max-Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology and The University of Stellenbosch.

Commercial fruit production is under significant pressure from environmental stresses, but also by changes in the consumer's demand for taste and nutritional value. One of the key goals of fruit biology is therefore to understand the factors that influence the levels of metabolites in cells and tissues, ultimately with a view to manipulating these levels for improvement of fruit traits. Both genetic and environmental factors have a strong and multifaceted influence on fruit quality. They usually act and interact in such a complex way that it is extremely difficult to study their effects experimentally. To circumvent such difficulty, an integrative model of fruit metabolism in the tomato will be built. More information on the ERASYSBio awards can be found at:


The Future of Plants


The Department's vision of Plants for the 21st Century is highlighted in the latest 'Blueprint' magazine. In an article in the May edition of the magazine, Jane Langdale describes how a 21st century herbarium should be a comprehensive electronic resource combining modern mapping technology with high-quality images and data. The knowledge held by traditional herbaria would be enhanced with the enormous quantities of digital information about plants and ecosystems that is being collected every day by researchers in the field. The data held in the ‘e-herbarium’ would be easily available to anyone, from Government policy makers to rare plant enthusiasts. Funding from the InterContinental Hotels Group, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and the James Martin foundation are helping to make this vision a reality.

[More Information]


Dr Rosetta Plummer appointed as Director of the National Botanic Garden of Wales


Congratulations to Dr Rosetta Plummer, a former student and researcher in this department, on her appointment as Director of the National Botanic Garden of Wales – for full details see


Dr Stephen Harris, is the botanical advisor on 'Botany for the Artist' book



Druce Curator of the Oxford University Herbaria, Dr Stephen Harris, is the botanical advisor on 'Botany for the Artist', a book featuring over 350 botanical illustrations by the artist Sarah Simblet. Many of the plants illustrated in the book were based on specimens from either Oxford University Herbaria or the Botanic Garden. An inspirational guide to drawing plants, this book will be published in February 2010.


Rules for biologically inspired adaptive network design


Rules for biologically inspired adaptive network design: slime molds build networks with comparable efficiency, fault tolerance and cost to rail networks.
Read the full story here: Mould networks match railways.


Insect Pollination POST Briefing Note by Rebecca Ross


Rebecca Ross, a DPhil student in Plant Sciences, has recently published a science policy briefing note on Insect Pollination. This was written during her three-month Fellowship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, sponsored by the British Ecological Society. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) provides independent, balanced and topical analysis of public policy issues related to science and technology to inform MPs and Lords. Recent briefing notes have covered topics as broad as: Diagnosing Dementia, Climate Change Engagement and Behaviour, and Technology for the Olympics.

Insect pollination is a highly topical and relevant issue as many plants, including crops, depend on insects to transfer pollen between flowers. Maintaining enough insect pollinators is therefore vital for biodiversity and a diverse food supply. Declines in pollinators, particularly in Europe and the USA, have provoked claims of a global pollination crisis. The POSTnote examines the risks of pollinator decline for the UK and explores strategies to provide stable pollination services into the future.
A seminar was held to launch the Insect Pollination note in Parliament on January 20th 2010.

The POSTnote can be downloaded from the POST website here:
Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, 2010 Publications.


Department's research highlighted in the Oxford Science Blog


Feeding the future Guest: Penny Sarchet | 06 Jan 10

At the current growth rate the global population is predicted to reach 10 billion by 2050. To feed this many people, food production worldwide will need to double during a period when climate change will worsen, fossil fuels will dwindle, and water availability will become unpredictable.

In addition, if we are to protect what biodiversity we can, this doubling of agricultural output must take place using the same amount of farmland, without impacting upon remaining natural habitats.

To tackle this problem, scientists in Oxford University’s Department of Plant Sciences are aiming to develop high-yield crop strains which will be better adapted to this climate-altered, resource-poor agricultural landscape of the near future.

Boosting rice crops
Professor Jane Langdale, Head of the Department of Plant Sciences, is engaged in the ‘C4 Rice’ project, an international effort funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation [more here]. 700 million people in Asia currently depend on rice for the bulk of their calorific intake and it is predicted that during the next 40 years, rice production needs to increase by 50 per cent in order to feed the growing Asian population, whilst adapting to adverse changes in climate and water availability.

Photosynthesis converts carbon dioxide and the energy from sunlight into chemical energy and takes place in cell organelles called chloroplasts. The chemical energy produced in these chloroplasts is then used by plants to live, grow, and in the case of crops, produce grain.

Conventional rice varieties use a standard photosynthesis pathway known as ‘C3’, but under certain conditions, such as warmer temperatures, this pathway is inefficient. A number of plants, including maize, have evolved an extra photosynthesis pathway, called ‘C4’, to solve this problem. The C4 photosynthesis pathway can increase efficiency by 50 per cent and iintroducing it into rice could provide the answer to Asia’s impending food problem.

The C4 Rice project is often quoted as being ‘highly ambitious’. In order to work, large changes need to be made to both the anatomy of rice leaves and the chemical reactions that take place inside them. However, there is encouraging evidence that it could be done.

Jane’s work on the GLK genes suggests that they may play a role in regulating whether a plant’s chloroplasts use C3 or C4 photosynthesis. Ongoing work in her laboratory seeks to put GLK genes from maize, a naturally C4 crop, into rice plants. Her work on chloroplasts began due to an interest in the genetic control of development in plants, rather than a specific aim to put C4 photosynthesis into other plant species. Whilst developing new C4 crops had always seemed like an interesting idea, she never thought it would be realistic.

20 years of chloroplast research later, Jane was ready to move into new research areas. It was at this point, in 2006, that the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) invited Jane to a C4 Rice Consortium workshop. Originally reluctant to go, she was persuaded to attend by Julian Hibberd from the University of Cambridge, and found herself getting excited by the proposed project. She is now 5 months into a 3 year “proof of concept” project involved in testing the feasibility of C4 Rice, a necessary step called for by a paper inCurrent Opinions in Plant Biology written with Julian and John Sheehy from IRRI last year.

Using less fertiliser
As well as facing climate change, 21st century agriculture will also have to cope with the decline in fossil fuels. The work of Oxford’s new Sherardian Professor of Botany, Liam Dolan, aims to produce crops which grow healthily without excessive phosphate-rich fertiliser application.

Phosphate is required by all living organisms to build cellular components and the low availability of phosphate in natural environments can severely limit plant growth. The soil of all of sub-Saharan Africa and one third of China is deficient in this crucial nutrient. The application of artificial fertilisers all over the world has so far dealt with this problem and contributed to the increase in productivity seen in the Green Revolution of the 20th Century.

Phosphate is extracted from mines, mainly in Morocco, the USA, China, the Former Soviet Union and South Africa, with 80 per cent of the phosphate produced being put into fertilisers. The extraction and transport of phosphate for agricultural use constitutes a considerable annual cost and carries a large carbon footprint. Furthermore, like oil, phosphate reserves are finite, and some predictions claim that phosphate mines could be exhausted within the next 30 years.

Liam’s work aims to develop crops which are better adapted to scavenge their own phosphate from the soil, making them less dependent on artificial fertilisers.

Plants can naturally extract their own phosphate from the soil using root hairs, single-cell structures which grow along roots. Liam’s research group have discovered a family of genes which control root hair growth and they are working to modulate the expression of these genes in crop plants. Their aim is to increase the number of root hairs a plant produces in response to naturally occurring phosphate in the soil. They have developed transgenic wheat and rice varieties capable of producing longer root hairs and are now moving on to field experiments to test the yield of these plants in the absence of commercial fertiliser.

Unlike Jane Langdale’s chloroplast work, this has always been the aim for Liam. He jokes that his team are now finally at the stage he had hoped to be at by the end of his PhD, explaining that this has been a very large project, starting from scratch and requiring the discovery of all the necessary genes involved.

Planning for 21st Century
In light of the global food security crisis we will soon be facing, the University’s Department of Plant Sciences will next year be launching a 21st Century Cropsresearch initiative. This initiative seeks to found an Oxford Professorship in Crop Science and to encourage translational research, so that discoveries made about plant metabolism, growth and development can be transferred to agriculturally valuable crop plants.

However, both Jane and Liam believe that whilst plant science has a lot to offer in solving the food security challenge, the role of governments and funding bodies is crucial, a point that was emphasised at the 'Food Security in the 21st Century' Symposium hosted by the Department’s graduate students last October.

Due to the unequal distribution of global wealth, the countries facing the most immediate problems do not have the funds to overcome them. Jane argues that to tackle food security there must be sustained funding and input from wealthy countries in order to bring about developing nation benefits. Liam points out that every day the same number of people die from malnutrition as from cancer, reflecting the bias of interest in developed countries. However, whilst scientific research alone cannot solve the issue of food security in the face of global politics, it is, says Jane, a very exciting time to be a plant scientist.

Penny Sarchet is based at Oxford University's Department of Plant Sciences


Oxford Forester Will Hawthorne advises the Ghost Forest project, currently on display in London’s Trafalgar Square



William Hawthorne got a big mention in relation to the Ghost Forest installation in Trafalgar Square:
"A lot of people at the university really bought into the project, like this wonderful guy at Plant Sciences, William Hawthorne. He happens to be a world expert on Ghana’s rainforests."

The Oxford Times article is at:

The Oxford University Blog also mentions William and this art project:


Dr Nick Brown to be next Principal of Linacre College


Congratulations go to Dr Nick Brown, Lecturer in Forestry in the Plant Sciences Department, who has been elected as the next Principal of Linacre College

Visit for further details


Liam Dolan and Nicholas Harberd elected members of EMBO


Liam Dolan, Sherardian Professor of Botany, and Nicholas Harberd, Sibthorpian Professor of Plant Sciences, have been elected to the membership of EMBO, the European Molecular Biology Organisation.

EMBO membership comprises around 1,400 of the world’s foremost molecular biologists from all fields ranging from evolutionary to computational biology, neuroscience and plant biology. Members are elected on the basis of scientific excellence and provide their expertise to the various programmes co-ordinated by EMBO.


Plant named in recognition of Dr Caroline Pannell


AglaiaPannelliana.jpgA rare tropical rain forest tree has been discovered by an American botanist working in Papua New Guinea. Wayne Takeuchi found the plant in a remote mountainous area of the country and has called it Aglaia pannelliana, in recognition of the scientific contributions of Caroline M. Pannell. Dr Pannell is the authority on Aglaia, the largest genus in the mahogany family. The Department is pleased to congratulate Caroline.

This material for the website of the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, first appeared in an article titled 'Occurrence records in Papuasian Aglaia (Meliaceae): A. pannelliana and A. puberulantherafrom the southern karst of Papua New Guinea', in Harvard Papers in Botany 14(1), 2009, pages 31-38, and is reprinted here with permission of the editors of Harvard Papers in Botany.


Welcome to our new Sheradian Professor of Botany, Professor Liam Dolan



We are delighted to welcome our new Sheradian Professor of Botany, Professor Liam Dolan. Liam joins us from the John Innes Institute where he has been working on understanding the general principles of cell development and evolution using specialized rooting cells such as rhizoids and root hairs as models. Liam has moved to Oxford with members of his group; full details of his research are available on his webpage.


Partnership funds research into biodiversity


CapeThreepointsForestReserve.jpgThe Department of Plant Sciences has joined forces with IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group), the world’s largest hotel company, to accelerate vital and innovative research into conservation. IHG have pledged up to $1 million to fund research into biodiversity which will help to pinpoint and publicise areas of the planet - small in some cases - that have the greatest concentration of rare and threatened plants, any of which could be useful to all of us one day. Full details of the partnership between IHG and the Department of Plant Sciences can be found here:
$1m to improve 'hotspot' conservation


Nick Brown took part in Home Planet on BBC Radio 4


On Tuesday 11th August Nick took part in Home Planet BBC Radio 4. He dealt with listeners' questions on environmental issues. You can hear the programme on the BBC iPlayer


Congratulations to Xiaoqi Feng!!


Congratulations to Xiaoqi Feng, who was presented with the Young Scientist of the Year award at the recent Society for Experimental Biology meeting in Glasgow.

Xiao was awarded the first prize of £600 for her talk in a competition designed to recognise the best young researchers. This award is open to PhD students and those in the first three years of their first postdoctoral position.

Xiao’s talk which won the award was under the title of "Cell lineages determine the fates of germ cells and their tapetal feeder cells in the Arabidopsis anther". In her work with Professor Hugh Dickinson, she discovered that the male reproductive cells and their feeder cells in the plant Arabidopsis each develop from a distinct lineage – just as in animals. This discovery changes our current ideas about plant development, as well as opening up potential new strategies for improving seed production.


3 Month BES Fellowship for Becky Ross


Congratulations to Becky Ross, who has been offered a three-month Fellowship, sponsored by the British Ecological Society (BES), at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). The BES fellowship funds a PhD student to spend a three-month period working at Westminster on the production of a POSTnote. POSTnotes are briefing documents for Parliament on scientific issues; current POSTnotes include a range of topics which are of interest to plant scientists, such as REDD, Biodiversity and Climate Change, and UK Crop Protection. The BES fellowship is open to all UK PhD students working on ecologically-related subjects. To win the fellowship, Becky wrote an example POSTnote on the topic "The Pollinator Problem: looking beyond honeybees" and was subsequently interviewed by a panel of POST and BES employees. During her Fellowship, she will choose a topic for a POSTnote, defend her choice to the POST Board, research the topic through academic and government channels, and write the POSTnote. This will be published by POST and made available to Parliament and to the wider world.


Nick Harberd elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society


NickHarberdFRS.pngWe are delighted to announce that Nick Harberd, Sibthorpian Professor of Plant Science, has been elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in recognition of his contribution to plant science. Nick moved to Oxford from the John Innes Centre, Norwich, in 2007. His major discoveries have revealed how hormones control the growth of plants. Nick is also author of the bestselling book "Seed to Seed: The Secret Life of Plants".


SET for Britain - Medal Winner


Congratulations to Xiaoqi Feng, Biological and Biomedical Sciences winner at the recent SET for Britain event held at the House of Commons on 9th March 2009.The event invited 600 early stage researchers from around the UK to present their work and compete for prizes. Xiaoqi won the Mendel Medal for Excellence in Science.

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Hugh Dickinson to present Woolhouse Lecture at annual SEB meeting.


Hugh Dickinson, Sherardian Professor in the Department will be giving the Woolhouse Lecture on June 29th, at the annual Society for Experimental Biology (SEB) Meeting, this year held in Glasgow. The Woolhouse Lecture commemorates the great contribution to plant biology made by Harold Woolhouse (1932-1996; Director of the John Innes Institute 1980-89), and usually focuses on cell and developmental genetics.


Independent Research Fellow Event 2009


The Plant Sciences Department will this year host the annual Independent Research Fellow Event on 5th - 6th May 2009.
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Nick Brown took part in Home Planet on BBC Radio 4


On Tuesday 20th January Nick took part in Home Planet BBC Radio 4. He dealt with listeners' questions on environmental issues.  You can hear the programme on the BBC iPlayer


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Researchers to grow rice


A team from the Department of Plant Sciences is taking part in an $11m grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The initiative is being led by the International Rice Research Institute and the Oxford team will focus on the role specific genes play in determining the structure of plants such as maize that enable them to harness solar energy efficiently.

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Nick Brown has been awarded two new grants from the Woodland Trust


Nick Brown has secured two grants from the Woodland Trust;

 i) to examine the restoration of planted ancient woodland sites

 ii) quantifying trends in UK forest cover.


Departmental contribution to new exciting study on evolution of leaf shape


Work from our Department features in a recent “Science” paper demonstrating that CUP SHAPED COTYLEDON transcriptional regulators are necessary to direct compound leaf formation in diverse plant species ranging from the basal eudicot Columbine to pea, tomato and mustards ( Compound leaf morphology was independently derived in these lineages, therefore this comparative investigation is a striking example of the repeated evolutionary deployment of a key developmental regulator in sculpting diverse organ shapes.  The study makes heavy use of the Arabidopsis thaliana relative, Cardamine hirsuta, which is a novel model system developed by Miltos Tsiantis and Angela Hay who collaborated on this study with P.Laufs in Versaille who lead the study.


The story is also featured in a news article in  “Nature”

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RAE success


The Department is pleased to announce the results of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise. Based on three criteria (percentage 4*, GPA and 'rank of ranks') we have been ranked 4th out of 52 Biological Sciences Research Institutions in the UK.
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Graduate students win the Environment YES competition


A team of graduate students, four from Plant Sciences Department, have been rewarded for their exceptional entrepreneurial skills by scooping first prize of £1000 in the Environment Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) competition. The Oxford team are Rebecca Ross, Xiaoqi Feng, Christina Vinson, Gillian Petrokofsky and Bartu Ahiska. They beat teams from universities across the UK to the final prize and impressed the judges with their virtual business ‘ProBee’, which they say would offer a solution to the serious problem of colony collapse disorder. The national competition, run by NERC and BBSRC encourages young scientists to develop skills and contacts needed to turn research into commercially viable products and to pitch their ideas to a panel of potential investors.
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Liam Dolan has accepted appointment to the Sherardian Professorship of Botany and will join the Department in September 2009.


Liam Dolan is undoubtedly one of the major contributors to our understanding of how developmental mechanisms operate in plants. His research will complement and enhance current activities in the Department.
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Mr MHR Soper, OBE, University Lecturer in Agricultural Science and Student of Christ Church


Mike Soper was a long-serving University Lecturer in the former Department of Agricultural Science: he was also in charge of the University Farm at Wytham and for 31 years Secretary of the Oxford Farming Conference. Mike retired in the late 1970s and died on 26 October 2008 at the age of 95. At Mike's suggestion and by way of a retirement present the Mike Soper Bursary Fund was set up and each year this fund provides travel bursaries to students studying biological sciences at Oxford University to enable them to pursue their studies outside Oxford.

A memorial service for Mike will be held at 12 noon on Thursday 4 December at St Mary's Church, Wallingford (OX10 0DX). Mike's family have very generously decided that the proceeds of the collection made during the service will be donated to the Mike Soper Bursary Fund.


Jane Langdale Awarded ERC Advanced Grant


The ERC Scientific Council announces the results of the first ERC Advanced Grants competition, which has just been successfully concluded. The prestigious ERC advanced Grant, of up to € 3.5 million for 5 years, is targeted at outstanding, established research leaders, who will perform their research in any EU member state or associated country. The Scientific Council expects that at least 275 grants will be awarded in this call, with a total budget of €542 million.

Project Title - Evolution of Development In Plants

Abstract - Different morphologies evolve in different organisms in response to changing environments. As land plants evolved, developmental mechanisms were either generated de novo, or were recruited from existing toolkits and adapted to facilitate changes in form. Some of these changes occurred once, others on multiple occasions, and others were gained and then subsequently lost in a subset of lineages. Why have certain forms survived and others not? Why does a fern look different from a flowering plant, and why should developmental biologists care? By determining how many different ways there are to generate a particular morphology, we gain an understanding of whether a particular transition is constrained. This basic information allows an assessment of the extent to which genetic variation can modify developmental mechanisms and an indication of the degree of developmental plasticity that is possible and/or tolerated both within and between species. This proposal aims to characterize the developmental mechanisms that underpin the diverse shoot forms seen in extant plant species. The main goal is to compare developmental mechanisms that operate in vegetative shoots of bryophytes, lycophytes, ferns and angiosperms, with a view to understanding the constraints that limit morphological variation. Specifically, we will investigate the developmental basis of three major innovations that altered the morphology of vegetative shoots during land plant evolution: 1) formation of a multi-cellular embryo; 2) organization of apical growth centres and 3) patterning of leaves in distinct spatial arrangements along the shoot. To facilitate progress we also aim to develop transgenic methods, create mutant populations and generate digital transcriptomes for ‘model’ species at key phylogenetic nodes. The proposed work will generate scenarios to explain how land plant form evolved and perhaps more importantly, how it could change in the future.

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David Mabberley and Paul Kenrick appointed as Visiting Professors


David Mabberley and Paul Kenrick have been appointed as visiting Professors for three years with effect from 1st of October 2008.

David Mabberley is one of the foremost botanists of our time and is the Keeper of the Herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
For more information see

Paul Kenrick is a distinguished palaeobotanist based at the Natural History Museum.
For more information click here


Agricultural and Forest Sciences 30 year reunion


Article from Today – Summer 2008

In September 2007, 30 years after finals, 16 ‘Agrifors’ (Agricultural and Forest Sciences) met at Wytham Village Hall to celebrate this milestone and renew friendships. Nearly half have spent some time abroad, mostly with agricultural research or aid organisations, seven in .

We struck lucky in our choice of degree as well as the friendly and collaborative group taking it that year, and have made the best of our good fortune. An initiative to repay this sprang direct from the reunion: it is to collaborate in a business venture, investing funds together to create profits and share those returns with a rural development charity in . We plan to equip some local schools and small medical centres and if possible, finance and itinerant doctor. Some £38,000 has already been pledged which should generate £23,000 for the charity over three years. Other Agrifor graduates (and other alumni) are warmly invited to join us in this (details from Thirty years after we took full advantage of an education, it is time to spread the benefits further.

Chris Howard (Hertford 1969)

Peter Mitchell (Oriel 1974)

Rosie Plummer, nee James (St Anne’s 1974)

Andy Vinten (St Catherine’s 1974)


Symposium on Basidiomycete Biology and Genomics


Sarah Watkinson has been invited to convene a symposium on Basidiomycete biology and genomics at the XXV Fungal Genetics Conference, the Asilomar Fungal Genetics meeting, California, March 17-22, 2009.


Nick Brown appears on the BBC Radio 4 programme, Home Planet


Nick Brown appeared as a panelist on a recent edition on the BBC Radio 4 programme, Home Planet that discussed Britain's birdlife and the forest and woodland habitats that supports it.

To hear the programme click here


Department launches major new fundraising campaign - 'Plants for the 21st Century'


Visit our Fundraising pages


Pari Skamnioti awarded a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship


The research fellowship is for 2 years and provides independent funding for the research fellow.


$9.7m grant awarded to Nick Harberd and collaborators


Nick and his collaborators have been funded by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)for a five year programme to develop wheat varieties that are tolerant of salinity and other stresses. The project will use the latest sequencing technologies and will be based on a genomic comparison of wild and domestic wheat varieties.
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Nick Brown on BBC Radio 4's Home Planet programme


To listen again to the programme (originally broadcast on the 19th of February) click here


Dr Nick Brown is a panellist on Radio 4's Home Planet. TODAY at 15:00


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Dmtry Filatov awarded a grant by the Leverhulme trust


The Leverhulme Trust awarded a Research Project Grant to Dmitry for a project entitled: Speciation on Mount Etna: a multigenic anaylsis of adaptation in Senecio. Research Project grants are for original and innovative research projects of high quality and potential.

Oxford ragwort (Senecio squalidus) is a recently evolved homoploid hybrid species endemic to Britain. The species is derived from hybrids of two closely related Senecio species growing on Mount Etna in Sicily1,2. Unlike the British endemic, which is now geographically isolated from these taxa, the mechanisms maintaining species differences in the hybrid zone on Mt. Etna are unclear. A cline in gene frequencies is observed between the two species on Mt. Etna which may be caused by diversifying selection (heterozygote disadvantage) or simply recent hybridization. To interpret the cline, we will conduct a multigenic DNA diversity and divergence study of high and low altitude Senecio species from Mt. Etna to estimate the length of time the two species have been hybridizing and when the two species diverged. In addition, the role of gene flow and natural selection in the maintenance of key reproductive traits will be studied by sequencing genes differentially expressed in capitulum (inflorescence) buds and flower buds. Flowering physiology differs between the two Senecio species growing at high and low altitude, and aspects of key reproductive traits are likely to be adaptive responses maintaining these different evolutionary units.


Latest publications by members of the Department


Stephen R. Giddens, Robert W. Jackson, Christina D. Moon, Michael A. Jacobs, Xue-Xian Zhang, Stefanie M. Gehrig, and Paul B. Rainey Mutational activation of niche-specific genes provides insight into regulatory networks and bacterial function in a complex environment PNAS published November 7, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0706739104
see PNAS website

James W.A. Graham, Thomas C.R. Williams, Megan Morgan, Alisdair R. Fernie, R. George Ratcliffe, and Lee J. Sweetlove.
Glycolytic Enzymes Associate Dynamically with Mitochondria in Response to Respiratory Demand and Support Substrate Channeling. PLANT CELL published November 2, 2007, 10.1105/tpc.107.053413
see PLANT CELL website


Research by Graham Muir and Dmitry Filatov highlighted in the current issue of Genetics


see Genetics website

The paper reports the putative spread of an advantageous allele across the range of two hybridizing plant species. Such sharing of adaptive mutations by several species may be an important mechanism of adaptation in plants.
The results also illustrate that recovery of population structure after the sweep occurs quickly at the local scale, but much more slowly at the continental scale, resulting in a counter-intuitive pattern of high population structuring at the level of demes and very little structure at higher population/species levels.
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Research done in 3rd year undergraduate class run by Nick Brown, Sarah Watkinson, David Bass and Alexis Howe published in Proc R


Data collected during a 3rd year Plant Biology practical class formed the basis of the paper:

David Bass, Alexis Howe, Nick Brown, Hannah Barton, Maria Demidova, Harlan Michelle, Lily Li, Holly Sanders, Sarah C. Watkinson, Simon Willcock and Thomas A. Richards (2007) Yeast forms dominate fungal diversity in the deep oceans. Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B. doi:10.1098/rspb.2007.1067

To see the paper click here


The University invites applicants for the Sherardian Professorship of Botany


Sherardian Professorship of Botany
Closing Date: Monday, November 26, 2007

The University of Oxford intends to make an appointment to the Sherardian Professorship of Botany from 1 October 2008 or as soon as practicable thereafter, in anticipation of the retirement of Professor H.G. Dickinson in September 2009. A Professorial Fellowship at Magdalen College is attached to the post.
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Research from the Gurr lab featured on the front cover of Plant Cell


The paper by Pari Skamnioti and Sarah Gurr demonstrates that cutinase is involved during penetration of host plant cells by the rice blast fungus, Magnaporthe grisea. Using a cutinase mutant they are able to show that cutinase is required for surface sensing leading to correct germling differentiation, penetration, and full virulence in this model fungus.

To see the paper and the cover image see
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New book on the Flora Graeca by Stephen Harris


The Book is called The Magnificent Flora Graeca.
Publisher: Bodleian Library.
ISBN: 1 85124 306 2
Price: £35

The Flora Graeca is one of the most extraordinary botanical publications of all time. The spectacular quality of the botanical illustrations, the size of the publication (10 double folio volumes), its cost on publication (over GBP 620 in 1830) and the lengths to which people went to see it all added to the Flora's reputation.

Indeed, there were so few copies of the first printing - just twenty five - that some people were skeptical that the book existed! This book summarizes the story of the Flora Graeca enterprise, profiling the leading characters, John Sibthorp and his celebrated illustrator Ferdinand Bauer, and charting their eastern Mediterranean adventures; the scientific and artistic aspects of the publication and its printing history.

It also looks at the horticultural legacy of Sibthorp's voyages and the plants he brought back to England, such as Crocus flavus ssp. flavus collected in Turkey, now popular in its own right as one of the parents of a popular garden hybrid, 'Golden Yellow', and Cyclamen persicum collected in Cyprus, now one of the most widely grown autumn-flowering species and the parent of many of the garden cyclamens. Heavily illustrated, the book brings together images of Sibthorp's specimens (looking remarkably fresh after 180 years) and illustrations from the original watercolours and the engravings preserved in Oxford.

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Mary Illes won the PH Greory prize for her presentation at the BSPP Presidential meeting "Attack and Defence in Plant Disea


For more information click here
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Research from Colin Hughes, Denis Filer & Stephen Harris published in PNAS


A botanical and genetic survey of the Mexican tree Leucaena has provided evidence for the importance of 'accidental hybrids' in crop domestication.

More details can be found in a University press release click here
And at PNAS
click here


Mary Illes awarded the Hosier scholarship at Linacre college


For more information about Linacre click here
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Mary Illes selected to give a talk at a University graduate student seminar day


The Maths, Physical and Life Sciences division of the University recently organised a graduate student seminar day. Students representing all departments in the division submitted abstracts. From about 40 submitted abstracts, 8 students were selected to give seminars. Mary was one of these 8. The abstract of her talk is below

NO Focus: A role for Nitric Oxide in the Cereal Killer Magnaporthe grisea

Mary Frances Illes, Pari Skamnioti and Sarah Jane Gurr
Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, OX1 3RB, UK.

Cereals are man’s most important food crops, indeed rice forms the staple diet of half the world’s population. Yet 18% of the world’s rice harvest, and 13% of the wheat harvest are lost to disease caused by fungal pathogens, such as the devastating Magnaporthe grisea, the rice blast fungus. To design fungicides that disrupt the fungal lifecycle without compromising plant or consumer health requires a detailed understanding of the biochemical signalling pathways that drive pathogen differentiation and infection of the host.

The free radical nitric oxide (NO) is small and simple, yet it mediates some of the most intricate and significant signalling functions known. In animals, it acts in neurotransmission and regulation of blood pressure, and is induced during the inflammatory response. In plants, NO affects development, can protect against drought and salinity, and may contribute to the induction of an immune response. As yet, little is known about the functions of NO in fungi; this work investigates its roles in M. grisea.

Analysis of the M. grisea genome identified four nitric oxide synthase (NOS) genes with high sequence homology and similar domain structure to animal NOSs. Quantitative real-time RT-PCR traced the expression profiles of these genes over a time-course of development of M. grisea: from germination of the fungal spore and growth of the emerging germ tube to differentiation of the specialized infection cell (the appressorium) and penetration of host leaves. The transcript profile of one gene, NOS3, was upregulated 200-fold at the time of appressorium maturation and penetration, compared with levels seen in the ungerminated spore. Chemical inhibitors of NOS enzymes inhibited the formation of appressoria, signifying a role for NO in their development. However, the small signalling molecule cAMP allowed normal appressoria formation in the presence of NOS inhibitors, suggesting cAMP acts downstream of NO in a signalling pathway. To permit deeper investigation of the importance of NO in M. grisea development, a nos3 knockout mutant was generated. It forms very few appressoria and consequently causes radically fewer disease lesions on leaves. However, exogenous cAMP “rescues” the mutant to normal wild type development. NO therefore appears to be pivotal to pathogenicity in the rice blast fungus, offering us a new insight towards the rational design of fungicides.

[More Information]


Iris Finkemeier awarded the Horst Wiehe Prize from the German Botanical Society


The Horst Wiehe prize is awarded to one scientist every other year for an outstanding PhD thesis in the Plant Sciences. More details can be found at the German Botanical Society website
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Pari Skamnioti awarded a Junior Research Fellow at Somerville College


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Chris Leaver made a Fellow of the American Society of Plant Biologists


Established in 2007, the Fellow of ASPB award may be granted in recognition of distinguished and long-term contributions to plant biology and service to the Society by current members in areas that include research, education, mentoring, outreach, and professional and public service. Current members of ASPB who have contributed to the Society for at least 10 years are eligible for nomination. Recipients of the Fellow of ASPB honor, which may be granted to no more than 0.2% of the current membership each year, receive a certificate of distinction and a lapel pin.

The 2007 inaugural class of ASPB Fellows are:

Charles Arntzen (1966)
Sarah Assmann (1983)
Neil Baker (1975)
Wendy Boss (1975)
John Boyer (1963)
Winslow Briggs (1955)
Bob Buchanan (1967)
Joe Cherry (1970)
Maarten Chrispeels (1963)
Adrienne Clarke (1981)
Robert Cleland (1959)
Mary Clutter (1956)
Dan Cosgrove (1979)
Deborah Delmer (1967)
Machi Dilworth (1973)
Arthur Galston (1948)
Elisabeth Gantt (1969)
Robert Goldberg (1977)
Mary H. Goldsmith (1958)
Wilhelm Gruissem (1986)
Thomas Guilfoyle (1970)
Roger Hangarter (1979)
Peter Hepler (1976)
Ann Hirsch (1972)
Thomas K. Hodges (1961)
Steven Huber (1975)
Andre Jagendorf (1951)
Russell Jones (1965)
Rich Jorgensen (1995)
Kenneth Keegstra (1977)
Joe Key (1958)
Leon Kochian (1979)
Brian Larkins (1973)
Christopher Leaver (1966)
Sharon Long (1974)
William Lucas (1975)
William Ogren (1964)
Don Ort (1971)
Bernard Phinney (1952)
Ralph Quatrano (1968)
Robert Rabson (1952)
Natasha Raikhel (1986)
Doug Randall (1969)
Clarence ‘Bud’ Ryan (1968)
Thomas Sharkey (1976)
James Siedow (1976)
Christopher R. Somerville (1979)
L Andrew Staehelin (1980)
Heven Sze (1971)
Lincoln Taiz (1972)
Tony Trewavas (1994)
Masamitzu Wada (1986)
Jan Zeevaart (1961)


Miltos Tsiantis has received a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit award


The Royal Society gives research merit awards to individuals of proven outstanding ability to undertake original independent research. The award provides an enhancement to the holder's salary and, in some cases, research expenses
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George Ratcliffe and Nick Brown have received teaching awards


The contribution of George Ratcliffe and Nick Brown to undergraduate teaching has been recognised by the University in the form of individual teaching awards. The awards recognise the excellence of their teaching and take the form of a cash prize. George Ratcliffe received an additional cash prize in recognition of his distinguished contribution to teaching throughout his career.


Research from the McWatters lab featured on the front cover of Plant Physiology


Harriet McWatters is first author on a collaborative paper with groups from the Max-Planck institute for Plant Breeding, Koeln, The University of Liverpool, the University of Madison-Wisconsin, The Biological Research Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Science and the University of Edinburgh. The paper concerns the plant circadian clock and demonstrates that the ELF4 locus is required for entrainment of the clock to an environmental cycle and the maintenance of rhythm sustainability under constant conditions.

To see the paper see
To see the cover image click here


Dr Stephen Grigg awarded second prize in the Genetics Society "Young Geneticist of the Year" competition


(PhD Students & Junior Postdocs only)
The award is part of the Annual Spring Meeting with Young Geneticists submitting abstracts for review by the Society. A selection of successful applicants were chosen to present their work as an oral presentation during the parallel sessions of the main Annual Meeting. Oral presentations were judged by the Society plus a Promega representative.

For more information see Genetics Society


Dr Iris Finkemeier has been awarded a Junior Research Fellowship at Christchurch College


This is a three year stipendary fellowship which Iris will take up in October of this year
For more details click here


Nick Harberd and Nick Brown contributing to the Oxford Literary Festival




Four Scientists in Search of an Author

Wednesday 21st March
1.30-4.30 pm • £5.00 (£2.00 concessions)
Science Oxford, 1-5 London Place, Oxford OX4 1BD


Seed to Seed: The Secret Life of Plants

Friday 23rd March
6 pm • £7.50
Festival Room 2, Christ Church


Exhibition by Rosemary Wise at Oxford University Museum of Natural History


Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PW

Rosemary Wise: Botanical Artist
An exhibition of botanical illustrations

4th April - 29th June 2007


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Prof Nicholas Harberd appointed Sibthorpian Professor of Plant Science


The Department is pleased to announce that Professor Nicholas Harberd (currently at the John Innes Centre, Norwich) will be joining the Department as Professor of Plant Sciences and Sibthorpian Professor elect with effect from 1 August 2007. Professor Harberd’s present research interests focus on the genetic regulation of plant growth and development, and his future research plans include the establishment of a combined genetic and genomic approach to comparative studies of the acquisition of growth regulatory and developmental mechanisms during land-plant evolution.


Miltos Tsiantis Elected to the GARNet committee


Miltos has been elected to the GARNet committee along with Jim Beynon (Warwick HRI) and Philip White (SCRI)
For more details of GARNet remit and activities, see


The Story of the Apple by Barrie Juniper & David Mabberley (Timberland Press) out now.


This book brings together years of field-, laboratory- and archival-research to reveal the fascinating story of the origin of the cultivated apple.

More details can be found at


Professor Lorna Casselton appointed as Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society


The Foreign Secretary (and Vice-President) is one of the senior officers of the Royal Society and Lorna’s duties include overseeing the Society’s international relations programme, in particular its contact with other scientific academies, and its allocation of funding to both international researchers and UK researchers wanting to study abroad.

For more information see


Work from Sweetlove lab published in PNAS


The Sweetlove lab have established a physiological role for the Arabidopsis mitochondrial uncoupling protein. The catalytic function of uncoupling proteins has been previously established - they reside in the inner mitochondrial membrane and transport protons, dissipating the proton gradient across this membrane. However, until now, the physiological role of this uncoupling of mitochondria was not understood. Using a knockout mutant of AtUCP1, Sweetlove et al. were able to demonstrate that uncoupling protein is required in leaves to maintain a high flux through the photorespiratory pathway. Knockout of UCP1 reduces photorespiration leading to a decreased photosynthetic assimilation rate and a decrease in growth.

This paper can be viewed on the 'Early Edition' section (5 December 2006) of the PNAS website


The fungus Serpula lacrymans, cause of dry rot in buildings, will be sequenced by the USA Department of Environment Joint Genome



3 & 4 year BBSRC-funded D.Phil. studentships available for 2007


We currently have a number of 3 or 4 year BBSRC studentships available for 2007. BBSRC provide full fees and maintenance to UK Nationals, fees only to EU citizens but does not fund non-EU citizens. Eligibility for BBSRC funding can be found at

Throughout the year we will know of other guaranteed funding and will advertise this as it becomes available. Available funding and studentships will be offered to suitable and eligible candidates on a first come first served basis.

See Fees and funding for details of scholarship programmes and fees requirements
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Miltos Tsiantis selected as an EMBO young investigator


Miltos is one of 21 young group lead­ers selected by EMBO to receive the support of its prestigious Young Investigator Programme. Selection is a mark of the highest scientific excellence and the 2006 awardees were handpicked from a pool of over 150 excellent candidates across Europe. EMBO Young Investigators carry an influential recommendation. Selected by EMBO Members for the high standard of their research, they join a network of some of Europe’s best young life scientists.

For more information see


Genes in the sex cells of plants are marked to switch on or off before fertilisation



Three publications by groups in the department in Nature Genetics and PNAS


Research from this department has recently been published in three high profile papers.

Angela Hay and Miltos Tsiantis have published a paper in Nature
Genetics outlining the role of the KNOX transcription factor in the development of
dissected leaf forms.
For more information see the following links:

Research by Jose Gutierrez-Marcos, Liliana Costa and Mauro Dal
in Hugh Dickinson's group has been published, also in Nature
Genetics and details imprinting of maternally expressed alleles in seed embryo
and endosperm by differential methylation.
Read the paper in full at
See also

Finally, a study by Colin Hughes and Ruth Eastwood has been
published in PNAS and describes the evolution of lupins in the Andes.
Remarkably since colonisation of the Andean mountain habitats 1.5 million years
ago one Lupinus species has since diversified in 81 different species, making it
the fastest evolving plant group discovered so far.
More information can be found at:


Undergraduate teaching in biosciences at Oxford ranked best in UK according to the Guardian University Guide



One day meeting: "Current problems in comparative development"


UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD - 21st April 2006

Large Lecture Theatre Department of Plant Sciences

Supported by the generous sponsorship of the Jenkinson Trust


10.15 - 10.20 Introduction: Miltos Tsiantis

Chair: Peter Holland
10.20 - 10.40 Michalis Averof - IMMB Crete/University of Cambridge
Genetics for all: RNAi and transgenesis for comparative studies in diverse arthropods

10.40 - 10.55 Discussion

10.55 - 11.15 Angela Hay - University of Oxford
Regulatory mechanisms driving evolution of leaf form in seed plants

11.15 Discussion followed by coffee

12.00- 12.20 Nicolas Gompel - University of Cambridge
The regulatory origin of repeated evolution of Drosophila pigmentation patterns

12.20 Discussion followed by free time for interacting with speakers

1.15 Lunch

Chair: Miltos Tsiantis
2.15 - 2.35 Cassandra Extavour - University of Cambridge/Harvard University
Germline-soma differentiation: evolution of germline development across the metazoans

2.35 - 2.50 Discussion

2.50 - 3.10 Sebastian Shimeld - University of Oxford
Urochordate crystallins and the evolution of the vertebrate lens
3.10 - 3.25 Discussion

3.25 General remarks, coffee/tea


Mhairi Dupre to write a column for Nature


Mhairi Dupre, a first year PhD student in Jane Langdale's lab has won a prestigious competition run by Nature to publicly reflect on the progress of her PhD. Mhairi is one of four students from around the world who has been awarded the privilege this year. The column she will be writing is the Graduate Journal which appears monthly in Nature, and documents the experiences of graduate students at various stages of their career. The winners will be introduced in the February 9th issue of Nature, with Mhairi’s first article appearing on February the 29th.


Yuki Yasmura awarded the Linnean Society's Irene Manton Prize


Yuki Yasumera, a recent DPhil student with Dr JA Langdale, has been awarded the Linnean Society’s Irene Manton Prize for 2006. This prize is awarded annually for the best thesis in botany examined for a doctorate in philosophy in a UK institution. Thesis title: Conserved Regulation of Chloroplast Development in Physcomitrella Patens and Higher Plants


Dr Miltos Tsiantis elected to the Balfour Lectureship of the Genetics Society


Dr Miltos Tsiantis of the Department of Plant Sciences has been elected to the Balfour Lecturership for the year 2007, by the Genetics Society. The Balfour Lecture, named after the Genetics Society’s first President, is an annual award to mark the contributions to genetics of an outstanding young investigator. Miltos and his research group are investigating the genetic mechanisms controlling development and evolution of seed plant leaves. Miltos will receive the prize and deliver the Balfour lecture in one of the Genetics Society’s meetings 2007, which will be announced in due course.

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The research of Ms Tonya Lander featured in the newsletter of the Genetics society


Tonya is a DPhil student being supervised by Dr Stephen Harris. To read the article in the Genetics Society newsletter click here


Research by Tsiantis group on the molecular basis of leaf development published in Nature


Nature 437, 1022-1026 (13 October 2005)
SERRATE coordinates shoot meristem function and leaf axial patterning in Arabidopsis

Stephen P. Grigg, Claudia Canales, Angela Hay and Miltos Tsiantis


Leaves of flowering plants are determinate organs produced by pluripotent structures termed shoot apical meristems. Once specified, leaves differentiate an adaxial (upper) side specialized for light capture, and an abaxial (lower) side specialized for gas exchange. A functional relationship between meristem activity and the differentiation of adaxial leaf fate has been recognized for over fifty years, but the molecular basis of this interaction is unclear. In Arabidopsis thaliana, activity of the class I KNOX (KNOTTED1-like homeobox) genes SHOOTMERISTEMLESS (STM) and BREVIPEDICELLUS (BP) is required for meristem function but excluded from leaves, whereas members of the HD-Zip III (class III homeodomain leucine zipper) protein family function to promote both meristem activity and adaxial leaf fate. Here we show that the zinc-finger protein SERRATE acts in a microRNA (miRNA) gene-silencing pathway to regulate expression of the HD-Zip III gene PHABULOSA (PHB) while also limiting the competence of shoot tissue to respond to KNOX expression. Thus, SERRATE acts to coordinately regulate meristem activity and leaf axial patterning.


Caroline Iddon awarded best poster prize at British Mycological Society meeting


Caroline Iddon was awarded the prize for best poster at the British Mycological Society meeting: "Exploitation of fungi". Caroline is a D.Phil student with Prof. Sarah Gurr and her poster was entitled " White-rot fungal laccases as oxygen reduction catalysts: Building a biofuel cell".
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Prof Sarah Gurr awarded £232k by the Leverhulme trust to investigate the use of fungal laccases as electrocatalysts


Professor Sarah Gurr, in collaboration with Professor Fraser Armstrong, Department of Chemistry, University of Oxford has been awarded a grant by the Leverhulme trust to investigate the use of fungal laccases as electrocatalysts. Laccases are blue copper oxidases that occur widely in nature and catalyse the oxidation of aromatic compounds by molecular oxygen. This interdisciplinary project combines fungal gene modification with enzyme electrochemistry in pursuit of a laccase which serves as the cathododic catalyst in a biofuel cell.


Applications invited for career development fellowship



Mary Illes awarded the A.J. Hosier Scholarship by Linacre College, University of Oxford


Mary is just coming to the end of the first year of her PhD investigating the role of nitric oxide and nitric oxide synthases in the rice blast fungus Magnaporthe grisea


Dr Angela Hay has become a Junior Research Fellow of Balliol College Oxford.


Angela is an independent research fellow who works on comparative leaf development. For more information see Angela Hay


New discovery about plant development could lead to increased crop yields


Research by Miltos Tsiantis' group published in the journal Current Biology has shed new light on the function of KNOX proteins in the hormonal control of meristem activity. Ultimately, this knowledge could be exploited to alter plant growth patterns and could help to increase crop yields in agriculture. For more information see News release


Biology Undergraduate Open Day, Sept 16


For more information see Biology homepage


Leverhulme Trust Award


The Leverhulme Trust is to fund 2 post-doctorate posts to work on "Studying and exploiting laccases as electrocatalysts". This is a joint award between the departments of Inorganic Chemistry and Plant Sciences, and will be coordinated by Fraser Armstrong (IC) and Sarah Gurr (PS).


The President of Peking University visits the department


The President of Peking University, Professor Xu Zhihong - a plant scientist by training, visited the Department on the 26th April. He listened to a range of research presentations from members of the Life Sciences Division including two given by members of the Department of Plant Sciences. Sarah Gurr talked about 'Cereal Killers:outwitting plant pathogenic fungi' and Marc Knight gave a talk entitled 'Understanding plant responses to stress'


Nick Brown awarded a major grant by the UK Darwin Initiative


In collaboration with colleagues at the University of West Indies, Nick Brown has been awarded a grant of £265k by the UK Darwin Initiative to establish a biodiversity monitoring system for Trinidad and Tobago. click here for press release


Award of Brian Styles Memorial Prize to Alex Wortley


This book prize is awarded “for an outstanding DPhil thesis submitted in the subject area of Tropical or Subtropical Plant Taxonomy”. This year’s prize winner is Alexandra Wortley, whose thesis – Systematics of Thomandersia Baill – her examiners described as one of the best in systematic botany that either of them had seen. Alex is due back from Cambodia and likely to be in Oxford in May, when it is planned she will be formally handed over her prize by Mrs Cynthia Styles.


Philip Stewart presents a novel design for the Periodic Table


Inspired by a spiral version of the Periodic Table in the Festival of Britain of 1951, Philip Stewart has produced a novel design of the periodic table. He has developed this design into a poster - "The Chemical Galaxy" aimed at schools. The poster was featured in an article by Martin Kemp in Nature (2005) 433: 461.
click here to download poster


Irene Manton prize for the best doctorate thesis in botany has been awarded to Dr Alex Wortley


Congratulations to Dr Alex Wortley who has just been awarded the Irene Manton prize by The Linnean Society of London, for her thesis entitled Systematics of Thomandersia. The Irene Manton Prize is awarded for the best thesis in botany examined for a doctorate of philosophy during a single academic year (September to August). It is open to candidates whose research has been carried out whilst registered at any institution in the United Kingdom. Theses on the full range of plant sciences are eligible.


Paper by Swidzinski, Leaver & Sweetlove 3rd most accessed paper this month in Phytochemistry


Swidzinski J, Leaver CJ & Sweetlove (2004) A proteomic analysis of plant programmed cell death. Phytochem 65: 1829

is number 3 in the list of the top 25 most accessed articles this month in Phytochemistry

click here for more information


Chris Leaver elected as Chairman of the Executive Committe of the Biochemical Society


Having previously served as vice-chairman for the past three years, Chris has now taken on the role of chairman. His election to this post was announced in The Biochemist
(click here to download pdf)


Jenkinson Memorial Lecture to be given by Prof. Gerd Jurgens, University of Tubingen on the 21st of February


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Gail Preston profiled in Royal Society "Excellence in Science" newsletter



Dr L Sweetlove appointed as a University Lecturer in Plant Science


Lee Sweetlove has been appointed as a University Lecturer in Plant Science at the department and in association with St Cross College. Lee will continue to hold his BBSRC David Phillips fellowship until October 2006.


One Day Meeting on Environmental Microbiology


On Friday, 10 December 2004, the Department of Plant Sciences will be
hosting a one-day meeting on environmental microbiology. This meeting
follows the very successful event held last year in which over 30
researchers from Oxford and further afield presented their work as a
series of 20 min talks. This year the meeting will discuss evolution
and the adaptation of experimental populations of bacteria, genome
annotation and analysis, plant and soil-specific bacterial gene
expression, and bacterial biofilms. Those interested in attending
should contact Dr. Andrew Spiers (


Applications invited for Glasstone Research Fellowship


Applications are invited for the Glasstone Postdoctoral Research Fellowship tenable at the University of Oxford, in the fields of Plant Sciences, Chemistry (Inorganic, Organic or Physical), Engineering, Mathematics, Materials Science, and Physics. The fellowships will be tenable for one year with a possibility of renewal for up to two further years. The awards will be available from 1 October 2005 or as soon as possible thereafter. Applicants should have submitted for their doctorate by the time of taking up a fellowship (normally 1 October of the year in which the offer is made). There is no age limit but applicants should not normally have had more than five years of post-doctoral research experience.

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Refurbished Herbarium reopened by Peter Raven


Re-furbished Fielding-Druce Herbarium opened

Professor Peter Raven, Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, reopened the Fielding-Druce Herbarium on the 2nd July 2004 following a major refurbishment of the facilities (details at The reopening was preceded by a lecture from Prof. Raven, entitled ‘Plant, sustainability, and our common future’, to a capacity audience in the Department of Plant Sciences. Professor Leaver presented Prof. Raven with the second Sibthorp medal. The Sibthorp medal is presented by the Department for excellence in Plant Sciences.

The refurbishment of the Fielding-Druce Herbarium completes a major up-grading of the physical conditions and research facilities funded by a generous grants from HEFCE,
via the Science Research Investment Fund (SRIF), and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, for which the Department of Plant Sciences are very grateful.

Click here for photographs
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Miltos Tsiantis awarded President's Medal by SEB


2004 President's Medal of the Society of Experimental Biology

Dr Miltos Tsiantis has been awarded the 2004 President's Medal of the Society of Experimental Biology. The President's Medals are awarded annually to young scientists of outstanding merit, normally under 35 years of age or within 10 years of obtaining their PhD. This is the second year running that a member of the Department has won this prize, with Dr Lee Sweetlove accepting the award in 2003.
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