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Department of Plant Sciences



Supervisor: Beverley Glover (Plant Sciences)

Importance of the area of research concerned:

The enormous species diversity of the angiosperms was described by Darwin as “an abominable mystery”. Part of the explanation lies with the ways in which different plant species are reproductively isolated from one another, as a result of divergence of floral morphology and consequent differences in their interactions with pollinating animals. This project aims to understand a novel way in which flowers attract insect pollinators: the production of iridescent colours using nanoscale sculpturing of the petal surface. This project will not only be important in understanding plant-pollinator interactions, but may also inform approaches to generate structurally coloured materials for a range of applications.

Project summary :

This project aims to understand both how and why some flowers produce iridescence. Iridescence occurs when the colour of a surface appears different when that surface is viewed from different angles, and can only be produced using structural methods, not pigments. Both iridescence, and structural colour more generally, have been well studied in the animal kingdom, where they are responsible for the bright wings of many butterflies, the wing cases of beetles, and the spectacular plumage of birds such as the peacock. Flowers also produce iridescence colours using structural means, although they are generally less striking than the animal examples.

You will study the mechanisms by which iridescence is generated, using molecular genetic techniques in our model system Hibiscus trionum. You will also study the function of iridescence using our bee behaviour facility to assess how bumblebees respond to transgenic flowers with altered iridescence properties.

What will the student do?:

  1. We are conducting a mutant screen to identify genes involved in the formation of cuticular folds which generate iridescence in Hibiscus trionum. You will continue to screen for new mutants, conduct genetic and phenotypic characterisation of mutant lines, and use bulk segregant analysis to identify mutated genes.
  2. We have identified a number of candidate genes potentially involved in the development of iridescence, using a comparative transcriptomic approach. You will characterise the function of these genes using transgenic approaches in H. trionum.
  3. You will use our bee behavioural lab to explore the response of foraging bumblebees to transgenic plants with altered iridescent properties.


  • Moyroud, E., Wenzel, T., Middleton, R., Rudall, P.J., Banks, H., Reed, A., Mellers, G., Killoran, P., Westwood, M.M., Steiner, U., et al. (2017). Disorder in convergent floral nanostructures enhances signalling to bees. Nature.