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Plant science panel members' biographies
Dr Sarah Al-Beidh is a post-doctoral researcher at the UK’s leading gardening charity, the Royal Horticultural Society. Based at Wisley Garden in Surrey, RHS Science conducts research on topics of interest and relevance to the amateur gardener from managing resource use and advancing plants and gardens for urban sustainability, to encouraging garden biodiversity and conserving the genetic diversity of cultivated plants. Sarah is currently involved in the four-year RHS research project ‘Plants for Bugs’, which investigates the influence of plant provenance on garden invertebrate biodiversity.
Tim Benton is NOT a plant scientist. Being a university academic is now his principle hobby as he is seconded to the UK’s Global Food Security programme, helping to coordinate research around food security by the UK’s public funders (see www.foodsecurity.ac.uk). As a researcher, Tim has always worked on understanding how populations respond to environmental change, and has worked extensively on agri-environment interactions. His recent work includes comparing different farming systems and trying to understand what sustainable agriculture looks like (and what sustainable intensification may mean).
Professor Rob Chilcott is head of toxicology at the University of Hertfordshire’s Department of Pharmacy and Fellow of the Society of Biology. He has twenty years’ experience and is currently Chair of the UK Register of Toxicologists and a scientific advisor to several UK Government Departments. He has published a number of articles and has contributed to public debate on a diverse range of contemporary scientific matters such as genetically modified crops and nanotechnology.
Dr Ellen Colebrook is a postdoctoral researcher at Rothamsted Research. Her research interests are focused around understanding how plants respond to stress. She is currently investigating the role of plant hormones in controlling how plants respond to drought. Her PhD research at the John Innes Centre involved comparing the mechanisms by which different plants protect themselves from disease.
Dr Peter Eastmond is a Senior Research Scientist at Rothamsted Research. His main research interest is in plant lipid metabolism. Lipids are among the largest and most structurally diverse families of chemicals in nature and they have many biological functions. Some lipid form membranes; permeability barriers that define cells and compartmentalise all the biochemical processes within them. Other lipids, namely fats, act as nature’s most energy-dense carbon store, while others still function as signalling molecules (e.g. hormones) controlling growth, development and responses to the environment. I am interested in understanding how plant lipid metabolism is regulated, what its many functions are, and how this knowledge can be applied for our benefit.
Dr Cornelia Eisenach is a plant biologist whose fundamental research focuses on the regulation of plant water use and photosynthesis through stomata. Stomata are pores in the plant surface that allow uptake of CO2 and release of oxygen during photosynthesis but that also permit water loss through transpiration. During her PhD research at the University of Glasgow, UK Cornelia contributed to our understanding of how plants trade off water use and photosynthetic carbon assimilation through stomatal guard cells, the cells that regulate stomatal pore size. During her post-doctoral time at Glasgow, Cornelia was involved in a project to manipulate cellular ion transport processes to enhance photosynthesis. Currently she holds a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Zurich, Switzerland where she continues her work on ion transport in stomatal guard cells and their role in plant water use and photosynthesis.
Miriam Gifford is Assistant Professor in the School of Life Sciences and the Systems Biology Centre at the University of Warwick. Her research interests are in understanding how the many different cell types of the plant root together allow plants to be highly 'plastic' in their responses to changing environmental conditions. Focus areas are on understanding responses to variable nitrogen levels and how root development changes when plants work together to form symbioses with nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil.
Dr Eleanor Gilroy is Molecular Plant Pathologist at the James Hutton Institute. Her current research interest is to exploit the potato genome to understand the dynamic between plant development and stress responses produced by living organisms and those not associated with living organisms. Her past research includes exploring the genome of the pathogen responsible for potato late blight, as well as the characterisation of genes in plant disease resistance. She has also taken part in various scientific outreach activities aimed at children and also the general public.
Dr Wendy Harwood is a Senior Scientist at the John Innes Centre, Norwich. Her group works on the genetic modification of crop plants, in particular wheat and barley and uses genetic modification as a tool to better understand genes important in the development of improved agricultural crops. Wendy’s group also works to improve the technology for genetic modification, to increase understanding of the genetic modification event, and to provide data for use in the safety assessment of GM crops. Wendy is active in science communication and she is an Honorary Lecturer at the University of East Anglia.
Dr Richard Haslam is a Senior Research Scientist at Rothamsted Research. His main interest is in plant metabolism specifically the modification of seed oils. Working in the emerging field of Lipidomics; that studies the pathways and networks of cellular lipids in biological systems on a large scale; he investigates the dynamics of cellular lipids and the changes that occur in plants during development or perturbation. With the evolution of sophisticated mass spectrometers linked to highly efficient liquid chromatography systems, individual molecular species of lipids can now be isolated and identified, providing a new window onto this most diverse family of chemicals. Knowledge of how plants control lipid metabolism provides an opportunity to enhance human nutrition, as well as production of lubricants, detergents and chemical feedstock's in seeds.
Dr Ian Henderson is a Lecturer in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge. His primary research interest is genetic recombination within plant genomes. Previously he has worked at the University of California, Los Angeles and the John Innes Centre, Norwich on genetic and epigenetic inheritance in plants.
Alan studies how climate change affects plants and their habitats. Increasing carbon-dioxide levels alter the way plants grow and affect soil decomposition. Alan investigates these changes in the Arctic tundra and works out how this will affect our future climate. Alan is also the British Ecological Society representative on the UK Plant Sciences Federation Advisory Committee.
Professor Huw Jones is research leader of the Cereal Transformation Group at Rothamsted Research, Harpenden. He studies ways to develop genetic techniques to solve problems growing wheat and other cereals. Huw is also an honorary professor in the School of Biosciences, Nottingham University and a member of the GMO panel of EFSA (European Food Safety Authority).
Dr Smita Kurup is a plant developmental cell biologist. Her research focuses on the developmental biology of plants, specifically with regard to seed development. Using a range of techniques in developmental cell biology, live cell imaging and comparative genomics, she aims to resolve genes and mechanisms affecting seed development and associated traits affecting final seed composition in the model plant Arabidopsis and related brassica crop species.
Ottoline Leyser is Professor of Plant Development and Director of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. Her research is focused on the role of plant hormones in allowing plants to adapt their growth and development to suit the environment in which they are growing. She is particularly interested in how hormones that move between the root and shoot allow plants to change their shoot branching patterns in response to nutrient availability.
Professor Keith Lindsey's research programme is focused on the developmental biology of plants, and in particular on genes that control how roots develop. Keith is a member of the Defra Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE), which advises Government Ministers on GM and related issues. He is the President of the Society for Experimental Biology, Editor of the journal New Phytologist, Co-Editor of the Journal of Integrative Plant Biology and Associate Editor of Plant Signaling and Behavior.
Dr Tim Marrs
Tim Marrs is a consulting toxicologist for Edentox. He was formerly chief toxicologist at the Food Standards Agency in London, and before that Senior Medical Officer at the Department of Health, in charge of a team which dealt with human health aspects of pesticides and veterinary medicines. He is also consulting clinical toxicologist at the West Midlands Poisons Unit in Birmingham. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists and the Royal College of Physicians of London. He has also been the editor of a number of books including Pesticides Toxicology and International Regulation, Organophosphates and Health and General and Applied Toxicology, in its 3rd edition, which was published (by Wiley) in November 2009. Most recently, he has edited Mammalian Toxicology of Insecticides for the Royal Society of Chemistry. He has written a number of papers on toxicology and allied subjects, as well as book chapters for various multi-author books. He is a member of a number of UK government committees and has served on various international bodies.
Dr Sarah O'Connor works at the John Innes Centre's Biological Chemistry department creating transgenic plants to produce medicines. Plants produce many valuable chemicals, such as those used in anticancer drugs. But we still don’t understand exactly how plants, such as the medicinal plant Madagascar periwinkle, make such powerful but complicated compounds. If we can find this out, it will be the first step towards making “new-to-nature” ones with even better qualities such as reduced side effects.
Professor Giles Oldroyd studies the relationship between bacteria within the root nodules of legumes that convert atmospheric nitrogen to a form available to the plant. Nitrogen fertilisers helped fuel the Green Revolution and are still essential for crop productivity. But producing and applying them accounts for half the carbon footprint of agriculture and causes atmospheric and water pollution. Some plants such as peas and beans are able to associate with bacteria that fix nitrogen from the air for them naturally. The long-term aim of our research is to dramatically reduce the environmental impact of agriculture by triggering the same bacterial association in our major cereal crops.
Professor Lars Østergaard is head of the crop genetics department at the John Innes Centre, where he studies fruit development in the Brassicaceae family including oilseed rape. Just before harvest, oilseed rape pods are prone to shatter, causing a 15-20% loss of seeds and over 70% under adverse weather conditions. By exploiting knowledge of the important genes for fruit development, Prof Østergaard's laboratory is developing prebreeding oilseed rape material to enable industry to introduce pod shatter resistance into their elite varieties.
Dr Anne Osterrieder is a Research and Science Communication Fellow at Oxford Brookes University. As a plant cell biologist she wants to understand how cells transport proteins through a complex inner membrane system and ship them to different destinations inside and outside the cell. Her current research focuses on the Golgi apparatus, the cell's 'post office'. She is very passionate about science communication and constantly tries out new ways to engage different audiences with her research.
Alison Smith is Professor of Plant Biochemistry in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on understanding how plants, algae and microbes make chemicals, particularly vitamins, to be able to exploit the potential of these organisms for biotechnological purposes. She is a founding member of the Algal Biotechnology Consortium, whose interests are the exploitation of microalgae for the production of biofuels and as platforms for industrial biotechnology.
Professor Derek Stewart, FRSC is leader of the Enhancing Crop Productivity and Utilisation Research Theme at the James Hutton Institute. His current research interests include plant metabolism, linking plant composition to health benefits, and studying the organoleptic qualities of plant-derived foods, such as flavour, aroma, texture and visual appearance.
Jeremy has spent 23 years conducting research on the risk assessment of GMOs and his current research is directed at providing improved methods for assessing and interpreting environmental impacts of GMOs, particularly herbicide tolerant and insect resistant crops. He is a consultant and advisor on GMOs to the European Commission, European governments, UN and scientific organisations and academies of several countries. Jeremy was coordinator of the ESF programme “Assessing the Impact of GMOs” that brought together all the major research groups in this area in Europe. He is an author of over 40 scientific papers on GMOs and of a book.
Paul Temple is a tenant farmer in a family partnership in East Yorkshire. He has a mixed farm, growing arable crops (wheat, barley, oilseed rape, vining peas) and rearing beef cattle. He speaks at national and international conferences, giving a farmer’s perspective on the use of science and technology in agriculture.
Dr Steve Thomas is a plant developmental biologist at Rothamsted Research. His main research interest is aimed at understanding how hormones control plant growth and development in response to changing environmental conditions. Focussing specifically on wheat, he is attempting to manipulate these processes to produce increased yields.
Dr Hanna Tuomisto’s research interests include environmental impacts of agriculture and food production. Her doctoral thesis at the University of Oxford compared environmental impacts of organic, conventional and integrated farming systems. She also carried out a study estimating the environmental impacts of large-scale cultured meat (i.e. lab-grown meat or in vitro meat) production. Currently, she works as a postdoctoral researcher at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Italy.
Martin Warren is Professor of Biochemistry and Head of the School of Biosciences at the University of Kent, as a BBSRC Professorial Fellow. He has an interest in synthetic biology and one of his research projects involves taking the mechanisms some bacteria use to make vitamin B12 and transferring them into other organisms, including plants. Professor Warren hopes to produce plants which efficiently produce this to help tackle the problem of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Dr Astrid Wingler's expertise mainly lies in the field of plant metabolism, especially how metabolism is regulated in response to the environment. Past research e.g. included investigating carbon and nitrogen metabolism in mycorrhizas, a symbiontic association between roots and fungi that helps plants obtain nutrients from the soil. She then did research on a process called photorespiration which is linked to photosynthesis, but results in the uptake of oxygen and the release of carbon dioxide, thereby reducing the carbon uptake and productivity of plants. More recently, she has been interested in how plant growth and development, in particular leaf senescence, are affected by the environment and how metabolic signals allow plants to respond to the environmental changes that are associated with climate change.