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Department of Plant Sciences

Most species of plants form intimate associations with beneficial microorganisms that facilitate the acquisition of limiting nutrients from the environment. Among the most advanced of such plant mutualistic associations are interactions with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.  In both of these instances the plant benefits from the association through the uptake of mineral nutrients from the environment, primarily phosphates and nitrogen.
While interactions with nitrogen-fixing bacteria are restricted within the plant kingdom, limited to a clade of plants that includes the legumes, the arbuscular mycorrhizal association is ubiquitous among plants having emerged at a very early stage of plant evolution. The capability to associate with nitrogen-fixing bacteria involves a number of molecular processes common to the mycorrhizal association and this is because the evolution of nitrogen fixation utilised many existing symbiotic processes that facilitate mycorrhizal interactions.  Hence, the signal transduction pathway used by plants to recognise mycorrhizal fungi is also used by legumes to recognise nitrogen-fixing bacteria and the cell developmental processes that accommodate fungal hyphae within the cell are also used by legumes to facilitate intracellular colonisation by nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
In our group we aim to understand the signalling and developmental processes in plants that allows interactions with mycorrhizal fungi and nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and to better define the similarities and differences between these two mutualistic associations. The long-term aim of our research is to broaden the plant host species that can accommodate nitrogen-fixing bacteria, in particular cereal crops, utilising the many symbiotic molecular processes that exist in cereals to facilitate mycorrhizal fungal interactions.  Nitrogen-fixing cereals have much potential to deliver more sustainable and secure food production systems, with particular potential to deliver significant yield improvements to the poorest farmers in the world.
Please note that the group currently only accepts Masters applications through the MPhil programme in Masters of Biological Sciences, Crop Sciences and not for the MSc.

Joining the group

Contact Head of Group Professor Giles Oldroyd if you're interested in joining the group or finding out more about the group's research.

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