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Glover Group: Development of the light-focusing prism cells of California poppy


Supervisor: Beverley Glover (Plant Sciences)

glover 2Importance of the area of research concerned:

This project is part of our efforts to understand the diversity of interactions between plants and their pollinators. We are interested in these interactions because they underpin the species radiation of the angiosperms, and are an essential component of understanding the diversity and evolution of life on earth. A good understanding of plant-pollinator interaction networks is crucial for developing strategies for the conservation of biodiversity, and is also important in considering global food security.

Project summary :

This project aims to understand how the unusual prism cells on the petal epidermis of Eschscholzia californica, the California poppy, develop. The petal epidermis of this flower consists of prism-like cells in which the ridge of the prism is filled with cell wall material. This is highly unusual as petal epidermal cells tend to be conical in shape, composed primarily of vacuolar material, with only a thin cell wall. The prism cells focus incident light onto the carotenoid pigments found in the petal, located at the cell base. Using cell wall to fill the top of the prism ensures that light is focused to the base of the cell, not to the centre, and so reaches the plastid-containing pigments. This novel cell morphology has not been described in any other system, and we do not know how it is built - you will use a range of developmental, molecular and comparative techniques to find out.

What will the student do?:

  1. We will grow up the other 11 species of Eschscholzia so that you can establish whether other species share the trait and to assess whether it has evolved once or repeatedly. If there are non-prism cell species you will cross species and analyse segregation of the trait.
  2. You will explore the development of the prism cells in California poppy using a candidate gene approach. Together we will select a small number of candidate genes that might have a role in prism cell development and you will explore whether they are expressed in the developing prisms. For appropriate genes you will use transgenic approaches to downregulate their activity and analyse the consequences for prism cell development.
  3. For sister species with/without prism cells, or for early/late stage petals before/during prism cell development, you will compare all genes expressed in the petals using RNAseq, to describe the general gene expression network in a developing prism. This might also generate candidate genes to feed back into (2).
  4. You will use our bee behavioural lab to explore the response of foraging bumblebees to pairs of species (and artificial surfaces) with and without prism cells.


  • Bodo D Wilts, Paula J Rudall, Edwige Moyroud, Tom Gregory, Yu Ogawa, Silvia Vignolini, Ullrich Steiner, Beverley J Glover (2018) Ultrastructure and optics of the prism‐like petal epidermal cells of Eschscholzia californica (California poppy). New Phytologist 219, 1124-1133.

Applying: To the Cambridge NERC C-CLEAR DTP programme:

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