In plants, carbohydrates are produced as glucose from photosynthesis in a light-dependent manner. Glucose is used directly in energy metabolism or converted into sucrose for transport, complex carbohydrates, such as starch, for storage or long-chain polymers for building cell walls. Almost all fixed carbon on Earth is derived from conversion of atmospheric CO2 into sugars by photosynthesis. Understanding how plant cells sense and respond to sugars in the context of the daily environment is a fundamental question in biology with important implications for crop improvement.
The lab's primary research interest is focussed on interactions between carbohydrate metabolism and light signalling. My recent research has revealed a role for photosynthetically-derived sugars in setting the plant circadian clock, a biological time-keeping mechanism (Haydon et al., 2013). This work showed that daily rhythms of light-dependent accumulation of sugars feed into the circadian gene regulatory network. Research in my lab aims to investigate the contribution of photosynthetic sugar production for a wider range of gene networks in the context of light signalling pathways and the molecular mechanisms of how this impacts on plant physiology and development. We use forward genetics to identify novel mutants with altered transcriptional responses to changes in sugar availability, as well as high-throughput chemical genetic screens to identify novel small molecule modifiers.
Cell-specific transcriptional reporters
We are developing a versatile luminescent reporter system to define cell-type specific molecular phenotypes. We use these tools, in combination with transcriptomics, to identify transcriptional signatures associated with changes in environmental conditions.
Photomorphogenic signalling from the cell wall
Research in my lab also investigates modes of signalling from the plant cell wall, a complex and dynamic structure comprised of a matrix of complex carbohydrate polymers and proteins. We have identified mutants with cell wall defects that activate light signalling pathways. We aim to understand the mechanism and physiological significance of these intriguing signalling pathways acting from the cell wall.
Research in the lab is funded by the BBSRC and The Royal Society with additional support from the University of York and The University of Melbourne.
Based in the School of BioSciences at The University of Melbourne (and also in the Department of Biology at the University of York) we use genetics, chemical genetics, molecular biology and biochemistry to understand signalling pathways underpinning adaptive mechanisms in plants in response to changes in environment.
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