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Evolution of Plant Body Plans

Head of Group: Dr Jill Harrison

Dr Jill HarrisonBranching patterns, the arrangement of leaves around the stem and leaf shape are fundamental aspects of plant architectural diversification that impact strongly on plant productivity. Surprisingly, the earliest shoot systems that share an evolutionary history with flowering plants comprise just a small leafless stem. Our research aims to understand how this was modified in evolution to generate the variety of plant forms that abound today.



Current projects include:

A mechanism for bifurcation

time lapse etc
Time-lapse images of bifurcation in a liverwort; Confocal micrograph of a leafless shoot apex in a moss; A moss leaf shape variant
A major architectural innovation preceeding the origin of true leaves was a pattern of branching in which two growing tips diverge. We aim to determine how this type of branching occurs in order to understand the first step in leaf evolution.

Conserved regulators of architecture

Modifying architecture and yield in a variety of crops depends on knowledge transfer between species. To maximise potential for modification, we aim to identify universal regulators of leaf initiation patterns and shape. We are using shoot systems that have an ancient and independent evolutionary origin to flowering plant shoots to address this question.

Novel regulators of stem cell function

By asking whether stem cell function is regulated in the same way in flowering plants and early land plants, our work is indicating novel pathways for the regulation of stem cell function. A long term goal will be to identify these, and transfer knowledge gained back to flowering plants for use in propagation.