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Professor in the Department of Biosciences+44 (0) 191 33 41309


For my first degree I read Botany at St. Catherine's College Oxford, and undertook a PhD at Edinburgh University. I carried out post-doc work in Edinburgh and then Rothamsted, before taking up a position as leader of the Plant Molecular Genetics Group at the Leicester Biocentre, and a lectureship at Leicester University (1989). I moved to a Chair in Durham in 1996.

Our research programme is focused on the developmental biology of plants, and in particular on molecular control mechanisms in embryogenesis and root development. We make use of a range of techniques in functional genomics, and exploit the many advantages of Arabidopsis thaliana as a model experimental organism. We developed promoter trap insertional mutagenesis in a forward genetics approach to identify genes required for correct embryogenesis and root development, and also use reverse genetics techniques (RNAi, identification of gene knockouts) to characterize the functions of genes identified by cDNA cloning. We also developed laser-capture microdissection in combination with expression profiling to identify transcription factors and signalling pathway components expressed in subdomains of developing embryos, and in roots. A current feature of our work is the development of predictive mathematical models to describe gene-hormone signalling network interactions, with Junli Liu and with Michael Goldstein and Ian Vernon in the Department of Mathematical Sciences. We are applying this to understand better the mechanisms regulating meristem function, including in response to environmental stresses. We also have a number of other collaborative projects, both with other academic laboratories and with industry, which build upon expertise and materials developed in our basic science programmes. In particular, we work on cotton genetics and biology with Prof. Xianlong Zhang, and on root biology with Prof. Chunli Chen at Huazhong Agricultural University, China, where I have been appointed Visiting Professor.

I am an Editor of the journal New Phytologist and Chair of the Board of Trustees for the New Phytologist Foundation. I was previously a member of BBSRC Council, the body that determines policy, priorities and strategy for BBSRC; Chair of BBSRC Appointments Board; and a member of the Defra Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE), which advises Government Ministers on GM and related issues. I am former President and Chair of Council of the Society for Experimental Biology. Some of my publications are listed below.

Research interests

  • Gene and hormone signalling networks
  • Plant development
  • Plant molecular genetics
  • Root development


Authored book

Chapter in book

Edited book

Journal Article

Supervision students