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Department of Plant Sciences

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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. With this approach, we will 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 in so doing drive advances in understanding of fundamental biology that will have major positive impacts on society.

The Department

The Department is made up of twenty research groups whose long-term aim is to contribute to the four global challenges above. A broad portfolio of grant income from diverse sources including UKRI, Government, Charitable Foundations and Industry supports 55 post-docs, 91 PhD students, and 14 research assistants. Strategic links both within Cambridge, as well as across the East of England and further afield allow us to make the best use of our science.

Locally, our discovery science is based on links with others in The University of Cambridge including colleagues in Applied Mathematics, Biochemistry, Engineering, Genetics, Land Economy, Physics and Zoology as well as the Sainsbury Laboratory. However, we also have a key strategic link with the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, and we formed the CambPlants Initiative to bring together all those working on plant and crop sciences in the local area. CambPlants involves policy makers, industry as well as academics. OpenPlant, a BBSRC-funded initiative, has cemented strong links with the John Innes Centre. In the International Arena, we have many links across the globe that are driven by our discovery science. However, we also have important strategic partnerships that aim to translate knowledge from improved understanding of fundamental biology into practice. These partnerships span East and Central Africa via the BecA-Hub in Kenya, include an additional 15 national agricultural agencies in Sub-Saharan Africa, and in India incorporate institutions such as NIPGR, The Punjab Agricultural University and ICRISAT.

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 neighboring 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 ~£10 million per annum and comes from UKRI as well as international agencies including the BMGF, the ERC, the EU, HFSP and the NSF. Since REF2014 we have published 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.