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Molecular Physiology

Head of Group: Dr Julian Hibberd

julian hibberdWe work on the genetic basis of traits that underlie components of crop productivity. In the long term this may allow productivity to be improved. Currently we focus on understanding how the efficient C4 photosynthetic pathway works, and in addition, we are generating increased genetic variation in domesticated rice, and screening for increased tolerance to stresses.

C4 photosynthesis is associated with increased productivity and despite its complexity is currently documented in at least 62 lineages of angiosperms. Our approach is interdisciplinary, including the use of molecular and physiological techniques through to bioinformatics. We have strong links with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in The Philippines.

Current projects include:

kranz etc
From top: Kranz anatomy of a C4 leaf; Bundle sheath cells marked with reporter; Knock out mutants of C3 Arabidopsis lacking proteins recruited into C4 photosynthesis are compromised in early seedling growth.
The regulation of genes in C4 leaves

Using closely related C3 and C4 plants we have identified cis-regulatory elements that are shared between C4 genes and lineages, and also found that these elements already exist in C3 genes. This may have facilitated the evolution of C4 photosynthesis, and so may inform approaches to engineer this pathway into C3 crops.

Using natural variation to understand C4 photosynthesis

Deep sequencing technologies have allowed us to map global patterns of gene expression in 15 of the 18 families containing C4 plants. We are particularly interested in defining the core set of genes required for C4 photosynthesis.

The ancestral role of proteins used in C4 photosynthesis

Proteins used in the C4 cycle are recruited from existing roles in C3 plants. We study the role of these proteins in C3 plants in order to understand evolution of the pathway.

Overcoming the domestication bottleneck in rice

As with all major crops, rice went through a series of domestication bottlenecks that reduced allelic variation compared with it ancestors and current wild species. With IRRI we are using wild species of rice and Multi Advanced Generation Inter-Crossing to re-introduce tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses.