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Department of Plant Sciences


The Department was shocked and saddened to learn of the deaths of Aleix Gorchs Rovira and his partner Greg Mellers in an accident in Berlin on 6 September 2019. Aleix was a PhD student in Alison Smith's group, and was within a month of submitting his PhD thesis, whilst Greg had finished his PhD with Beverley Glover in 2016. They were about to embark on the next stage in their life together in Berlin where Greg was working for a data analysis company, and Aleix would start a postdoc in November. On the evening of 13 September 2019, a gathering was held in the Botanic Garden of friends from the University and from NIAB to celebrate and remember their lives. Books of remembrance were available, in which thoughts and memories of them have been recorded, and these will be sent to the respective families, and a bench in their memory will be placed in the Botanic Garden to enable quiet contemplation.

Aleix Gorchs Rovira

Aleix first came to the Department in 2014 to do a placement as part of his Masters from the University of Amsterdam, working on engineering cyanobacteria. He returned to Cambridge in 2015 as a BBSRC DTP student, and his PhD project in the Plant Metabolism Group headed by Alison Smith was to study the characteristics and roles of PPR proteins in the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. These nucleus-encoded proteins control expression of genes encoded by the chloroplast, and Aleix investigated the subcellular location of all members of the gene family and the role of one of these in particular. He also developed their use as biotechnological tools to regulate expression of plant natural product genes, to enable sophisticated metabolic engineering strategies. The group is committed to completing what is necessary to get these two strands of work ready for publication so that his achievements can be recognised. Aleix excelled in blue-sky thinking and read the academic literature widely and deeply, embracing new methods and ideas and passing on his skills to both senior and junior members of the group. He was also passionate about entrepreneurship and was excited to be setting up his own biotech company.

Science was very important to Aleix, but of course this was not the only thing about him. He was an amazing person, kind, helpful, funny – above all always positive about things. It was impossible not to smile when he was around, and to feel buoyed up by his enthusiasm and optimism. His qualities were widely recognised in the Department, in his College, Darwin, and in the wider research community, as evidenced by him securing a postdoc position with one of the leaders in the field of chloroplast biotechnology, Professor Ralph Bock in the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology in Golm, Germany.  See the Smith group wave goodbye.


Greg Mellers

Greg was an undergraduate in Cambridge, and specialised in Plant Sciences in his final year, 2010-2011. His final year research project was in the Evolution and Development group, and he then took the Part III course in Systems Biology, with a research project on plant development at the Sainsbury Lab. Greg joined the BBSRC DTP scheme in October 2012, and settled into a PhD focused on understanding how the specialised insect-attracting petal spots of the South African daisy Gorteria diffusa develop. By the time Greg completed his PhD at the end of 2016 he had become the first person to successfully transform Gorteria, expressing GFP in the petal spot cells. He had also identified a key regulator of anthocyanin synthesis, responsible for the localisation of the dark pigment of the petal spot. During his PhD he spent several weeks in the field in South Africa collecting Gorteria samples for DNA extraction and also analysing the morphology of the petal spots – this work showed convincingly that the more effective at sexual deception a petal spot was, the more integrated its morphological components had to be.

Greg was an unusual combination of a fierce intellect with the most gentle soul. He was incredibly smart and also very well read, and he thought very hard about the papers he read. This combination of traits meant that he was a fantastic teacher and trainer, helping everyone in the lab with experimental design and troubleshooting. Greg also invested a lot of time in undergraduate teaching, supporting his students through exams and all of the additional stresses of life in Cambridge. Greg had a wonderful sense of humour, and enjoyed the ridiculousness of life. He had a wicked way with impersonations, and his email about the "spatula fairy" became a lab classic. Greg was at the start of a well-deserved new chapter in his life, and we will remember how much he was looking forward to it.


Waving goodbye to Aleix:

waving goodbye to Aleix IMG_1426