Prestigious Leverhulme research grants totalling more than £1m in addition to a large NERC award have been awarded to four P3 Early Career Researchers. Drs Stuart Campbell, Stuart Casson, Matt Johnson and Lisa Smith are all part of the new projects, please see details of their research below.
Dr Matt Johnson (PI), Dr Stuart Casson (co-I), Elucidating metabolic control of photosynthetic membrane structure, £410,504 Leverhulme Trust grant.
During photosynthesis plants convert solar energy into chemical energy in the form of ATP and NADPH, which are then used to power conversion of carbon dioxide, sulphur and nitrogen into biomass. Depending on the environmental and developmental state of the plant, the exact mixture of ATP and NADPH required can vary. The team have discovered that plants respond to changing ATP and NADPH demand by adjusting the structure of the photosynthetic membrane to modify their production. This new project will ascertain how plants sense changing demand and act on these signals to modify membrane structure. This investigation of the processes could lead to a better understanding of what plants need in their environment to thrive, and how they adapt to changes in that environment.
Dr Lisa Smith (PI), Dr Christian Voigt (co-I), A plant-specific motor during cell division and seed development, £173,950 Leverhulme Trust grant.
Plants may look like simple organisms, but when it comes to cell division, this process is more complicated than in animals. This is because while both animal and plant cells are separated by a cell membrane, plant cells are also separated by a cell wall. The cellular structures used to separate DNA into the daughter cells also differ between plants and animals. These differences are reflected by changes in the molecular motors that move cell components and construct the scaffolding needed for cell division. This project seeks to understand how a plant-specific molecular motor powers successful cell division. An increased understanding of these processes reveal better ways to encourage plant and seed growth, and thus increase crop yields.
Prof Julie Gray (co-I) and Dr Stuart Casson (co-I) (Prof Alistair Hetherington in Bristol as lead PI), Investigating the origin and evolution of stomata, £436,000 Leverhulme Trust grant.
This consortium research project will be Investigating the origin and evolution of stomata. Stomata are the small pores in the surface of the leaf, which balance the uptake of carbon dioxide for photosynthesis with the loss of water vapour. Stomata are recognised as one of the key innovations that enabled plants to colonise the land and yet their evolutionary origins are a relative mystery. This collaborative project, led by Prof Alistair Hetherington at the University of Bristol, aims to reconstruct the genetic ‘toolkit’ of the first ancestral guard cell and then identify the key factors that have, over evolutionary time, led to changes in stomatal function. The research could have implications for how we can ensure crop plants like wheat can continue to thrive in future changing climates.
Dr Stuart Campbell (PI), Are the defensive and reproductive strategies of plants linked? £814,000 NERC Fellowship.
Dr Stuart Campbell has been awarded a prestigious NERC fellowship for a project over five years. He will be investigating how the two drivers of both reproduction (by use of pollinators) and defence in plants function. These fundamental biological systems may be intrinsically linked as Dr Campbell indicated in previous research. Research into pollination/reproduction and defence are currently seen as separate topics, this project aims to unify these two research fields further.
The benefits of this deeper understanding are wide reaching. It could help commercial growers and farmers, and lead to improved management practices and greater sustainability; finding ways to increase pollination in crop plants could lead to larger fruit and crop yields; and organic home growers and allotmenteers would also benefit from knowledge that helps the success of crops such as potato and tomato. Knowledge of pollinators and their interaction with plants may also help manage the complex ecology of their changing environment.
To find out more contact us.