Dr Julian Hibberd, Reader
We are interested in the evolution and assembly of photosynthetic apparatus in plants. In particular, we focus on the C4 leaf, where photosynthesis is strictly compartmented between mesophyll and bundle sheath cells.
C4 leaves have higher photosynthetic capacities than C3 leaves, and as a consequence, C4 crops are the most productive on the planet. They are therefore targets for future food and fuel needs. In collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, we are particularly interested in placing components of the C4 pathway into rice in order to increase yields of this critical crop. We are part of a major (international consortium) that has formed in order to initiate work on making C4 rice. The consortium includes workers at IRRI as well as labs around the world, and some projects involve shuttling between institutes.
Julian Hibberd's contributions to our understanding of photosynthesis have been recognised by winning the Melvin Calvin award for research in photosynthesis. This international award is presented once every three years to one scientist who has made a substantial contribution to understanding photosynthesis - see http://www.photosynthesisresearch.org/Default.aspx?pageId=216518. The specific aims of placing characteristics of C4 photosynthesis into rice has been recognised by the high impact journal Nature, and Julian Hibberd named as one of five crop researchers who could change the world - see the orignal article and commentaries at Cambridge Network and BBSRC.
We are also currently using pairs of phylogenetically close species (rice and maize, and Arabidopsis and Cleome), to gain mechanistic insight into how the C4 pathway operates, and also how it evolved. Maize and rice are useful models as crop species, while Cleome is useful because of its relatedness to Arabidopsis.
The approaches we take include, but are not limited to: standard biochemical and microbiological techniques; molecular cloning and standard molecular biological techniques; the use of molecular genetics and mutants to discover gene function; the use of transgenic plants (e.g for RNAi, antisense, overexpression and expression of reporter genes); imaging of GFP-tagged proteins to determine cellular and subcellular location, using epifluorescence or laser confocal scanning microscopy: and, using infra red gas analysis and pulse modulated fluorimetry to investigate different photosynthetic abilities.