Head of Group: Professor Sir David Baulcombe
We research various types of disease resistance in plants but we have a particular interest in one of them - RNA silencing - that has significance beyond infection. RNA silencing controls the level of gene expression at various stages of the plant life cycle. Some of these effects are epigenetic – they persist through cell division or even from one plant generation to the next. Our approach involves cell and molecular biology but the aim is always to understand plants at the whole organism or population level.
Current projects include:
We select mutant forms of disease resistance proteins that confer broader spectrum disease resistance than the progenitor wild type. This approach will influence breeding and biotechnological approaches to disease resistance in crops.
Understanding hybrid plants
One of the mysteries in biology involves hybrids. How can progeny be larger, more vigorous or more productive than the parents as they often are in both plants and animals? Our recent work indicates that RNA silencing and epigenetics play a role and we are using tomato as a model with the aim of making plant breeding a more effective process.
Epigenetic modification of crops
We are developing methods that will improve heritable characters of crops without changing their DNA sequence. The approach involves using RNA to target epigenetic modifications to the crop plant chromosomes.
RNA silencing in model organisms
Our favourite model organisms for the dissection of RNA silencing include Arabidopsis thaliana, tomato and Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.