skip to content

Department of Plant Sciences


We are interested in how chromatin impacts gene expression. Plants are exquisitely attuned to changes in environmental conditions, such as temperature, light, drought and disease challenge. Chromatin helps establish long-term, sometimes multi-generational, cellular memories of events that modulate the transcriptional response to a renewed attack. This is akin to humans responding more effectively to a virus after natural or vaccine induced immunisation. In plants, such memories involve a re-sculpting of the chromatin landscape so that certain genes can be reactivated or repressed more rapidly with subsequent challenge.  Our recent research has led to the discovery of DNA methylation readers that activate and silence genes (Harris et al, Science 2018; Ichino et al, Science 2021) opening new avenues for exploring how cells encode and decode epigenetic states. The major goal of our research is to discover how these mechanisms work, so that we can eventually control them to improve crop resistance and yield. This work aims to provide key insight and tools to address the global challenges of sustainable food production in the face of climate change and population growth. 


Key Research Questions:

  • How are chromatin and epigenetic marks perceived by the cell?
  • What changes to chromatin occur during stress and memory formation?
  • Can we develop CRISPR based approaches for epi-genome engineering?
  • How do DNA methylation reader complexes affect transcription?


To address these questions, we employ a range of molecular biology approaches, as well as cutting-edge (epi)genomic, proteomic and bioinformatic techniques to dissect chromatin memory and function.

For more information please visit the Harris Lab website.

Funding sources: The Royal Society, UK; ERC Starting Grant; ISSF; BSPP

Joining the group

Contact Head of Group Dr Jake Harris if you're interested in joining the group or finding out more about the group's research.

Follow on Twitter