Research

Key questions we are interested in:

How is temperature sensed?  Eukaryotic cells respond within minutes to changes of a few degrees celsius, adjusting the expression of thousands of genes. The cell must therefore have a mechanism for sensing temperature and coordinating the transcriptome. Despite a few examples of thermosensors, e.g. in Listeria and neurons, the pathways by which temperature is sensed globally are simply not known.

To address this, we have carried out a genetic screen in Arabidopsis using a Luciferase reporter line for mutants that incorrectly sense non-stress temperature changes. This approach has enabled us to identify a novel temperature sensing pathway which appears to be universally conserved among eukaryotes and accounts for the majority of the transcriptional changes in response to temperature change. We are now collaborating with other labs to more fully understand the molecular basis of temperature perception.

What are the key genes necessary for adapting to different climates? Sessile organisms such as plants and yeast experience considerable fluctuations in temperature, both through the day-night cycle and seasonally. To cope with these challenges, eukaryotes have evolved a sophisticated temperature sensing pathway to coordinate transcriptional responses to adapt to fluctuating temperatures. Since Arabidopsis thaliana accessions are found across a huge range of climates, they represent a perfect resource for studying how organisms have adapted to live under different temperatures. This is particularly relevant during a period of climate change, which has already caused measurable changes in plant phenology. Strikingly, it has been found that plants that do not use temperature to set phenology are going locally extinct, while plants that use temperature to adjust their life cycle are better able to adapt to climate change. Knowledge of how plants are able to adapt to climate is fundamentally interesting at a scientific level, but will also help us to understand how wild plants will respond to climate change and breed crops better able to withstand temperature stress.  We are carrying out this project in collaboration with two key labs in this field, Caroline Dean and Magnus Nordborg.

How is flowering time regulated? The timing of the initiation of flowering is one of the most important developmental decisions during the plant life cycle. Considerable progress has been made through genetic studies in the last 20 years in Arabidopsis thaliana, resulting in the identification of the major regulators of flowering. Interestingly, the major components appear to be conserved in the higher plants, with particular changes that enable responses to particular cues. For example, while Arabidopsis flowers in response to long days, flowering in rice is triggered by short days. Both systems however use conserved components, such as FT. We have carried out genetic screens to identify key regulators of FT function.

What is the underlying regulatory logic of the floral transition? While much is known of the genetic architecture of the floral transition, the dynamic properties of the floral switch are not clearly understood. To address this, we have initiated a collaboration with the Richard Morris group (JIC) to describe the regulatory architecture of the floral transition. This modelling has given insights into how the dynamics of flowering are regulated both spatially and temporally. Our model makes a number of interesting, and testable, predictions about the dynamic regulation of the floral transition.

Can Brachypodium help us understand development and temperature sensing in monocots? Arabidopsis has enabled a revolution in understanding fundamental processes of plant biology in the last 20 years. By comparison, work in important crops such as wheat and rice is considerably harder, owing to their larger size, longer life cycles, difficulty of transformation and relative lack of community resources. The plant biology community has therefore adopted Brachypodium distachyon as a model for monocot plants. Brachypodium has many advantages as a model system, having a small fully sequenced diploid genome, being self-fertile and easily transformable with a short generation time. We are using Brachypodium to investigate flowering time and temperature perception pathways in monocots.

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