Professor of Plant Cell Biology
My research is focused on the development and functions of chloroplasts in plants. Chloroplasts are the subcellular organelles responsible for photosynthesis – the process whereby sunlight energy is harnessed to power the cellular activities of life. Consequently, chloroplasts are of vital importance, not just to plants, but (owing to trophic dependencies, and agriculture) to the vast majority of organisms, including animals and humans.
Chloroplasts are remarkably complex structures. Each one contains numerous copies of roughly 3000 different proteins, with functions linked to photosynthesis and other essential processes. Most of these proteins are not made inside chloroplasts, but instead are made elsewhere in the cell and must be imported by the chloroplasts as they develop. Our research seeks to understand how these essential proteins are delivered to developing chloroplasts. We work with a small model plant called thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) as well as with crop species including rice, tomato and brassica.
Recent work in the laboratory led to the breakthrough discovery that chloroplasts are directly regulated by the ubiquitin-proteasome system – an important system for the removal of unwanted proteins in eukaryotic cells. The potential use of this discovery in developing improved crop varieties that may help to address food security issues is being investigated, in conjunction with Oxford University Innovation (OUI).
I joined the Department of Plant Sciences and Wolfson College at Oxford in October 2013. Prior to that, I was a research fellow, lecturer, reader and professor at the University of Leicester, for a total of 14 years. I carried out my doctoral studies with Caroline Dean at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, and then did postdoctoral work with Joanne Chory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California.