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Department of Plant Sciences


Our vision

Our vision is to ensure that our high-quality discovery science contributes to tackling fundamental challenges in Global Food Security, Growing a Sustainable Bioeconomy, and Protecting the Environment.

We work to achieve five goals:

  • Enhancing production of plant derived products
  • Reducing agricultural inputs
  • Cutting losses from pests and pathogens
  • Enabling resilience to environmental change
  • Delivering sustainable bio-diverse landscapes

We also aim to increase the visibility of Plant Sciences in the global arena, train significant numbers of plant biologists across all scales of the discipline from molecular biologists to biological engineers to conservationists, and drive advances in understanding of fundamental biology that will have major positive results for society.


The Department

The Department comprises twenty-six research groups whose long-term aim is to contribute to the five goals above. A broad portfolio of grant income from diverse sources including UKRI, Government, Charitable Foundations and Industry supports over fifty post-docs, 90 - 100 PhD students, and over twenty research assistants. Strategic links within Cambridge and across the East of England and further afield allow us to make the best use of our science.

Our discovery science is often developed with University of Cambridge colleagues in the departments of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, Biochemistry, Engineering, Genetics, Land Economy, Physics and Zoology, and the Sainsbury Laboratory.

We run a series of impact centres with our partners that focus on conducting near, translatable research and development - the Algal Innovation Centre, Global Food Security Interdisciplinary Research Centre, Engineering Biology Interdisciplinary Research Centre, Conservation Research Institute, Centre for Landscape Regeneration and the Crop Science Centre, which we run in partnership with the National Institute of Agricultural Botany.

We run the University Botanic Garden, in partnership with the Museums and Botanic Garden service.

We run the University of Cambridge Herbarium and two plant sciences libraries - the departmental library, and the Cory & Herbarium library.

We formed the CambPlants Initiative to bring together all those working on plant and crop sciences in the local area to connect policy makers, industry and academics for greater and more targetted impact.

We run OpenPlant, a leading online synthetic biology research resource centre, in partnership with the Earlham Institute and the John Innes Centre.


Recent discoveries of note

  • Disorder in nanoscale ridges on petals has evolved repeatedly to help attract pollinators;
  • The smoke receptor in plants conditions recognition of symbiotic fungi;
  • Potent greenhouse gas production from lakes is influenced by neighbouring vegetation;
  • Standardisation of DNA parts for use in plant synthetic biology;
  • Principles underlying the spread of disease in plant communities and crops;
  • Identification of molecular partners that allow circadian rhythms to be controlled by sugars.


International Standing

International Standing: Our staff are widely recognised as making leading contributions to each of their fields. This includes contributions to Faculty of 1000, as well as carrying out Editorial roles for journals such as BMC Plant Biology, Cell, Cell Host and Microbe, Current Biology, Current Opinion in Plant Biology, EMBO Journal, EMBO Reports, Genome Biology, Journal of Experimental Botany, Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions, New Phytologist, Phytopathology, Plant Physiology, Proceedings of the National Academy, Science, Scientific Reports, Tropical Plant Pathology, Virology, Virus-Plant Interactions.

Competitively awarded grant support totals ~£16 million per annum and comes from UKRI as well as international agencies including the BMGF, the ERC, the EU, HFSP and the NSF. We publish in a broad spectrum of journals including ACS Synthetic Biology, Cell, Current Biology, Ecology Letters, Ecology, eLife, Functional Ecology, Genes and Development, Global Change Biology, Journal of Experimental Botany, Nature Climate Change, Nature Communications, Nature Genetics, Nature Plants, Nature, New Phytologist, Plant Cell Environment, Plant Physiology, PLos Biology, PLos Computational Biology, PLos Genetics, PLos Pathogens, PNAS, Science, The Plant Cell, and The Plant Journal.