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A networking organisation for plants-related research and impact
“How is your research going to change the World” is a series of Plant Science videos reflecting the breadth of research related to plants, covering food, energy, materials, health and ecosystem services. Ranging from plant viruses to plant-fungi love relationships; from super energetic and nutritious algae to unlocking the potential of photosynthesis, and to sustaining tropical forests, the wide array of research topics connected with Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge is reflected in this series of films where we asked our early career researchers how their work affects real-life and global issues.
newone.jpg Christopher's research interests include floral morphology and development, evolutionary genetics, hybridisation, polyploidy and speciation in flowering plants. His project investigates evolution and conservation genetics of the pink-flowered Potentilla porphyrantha (Rosaceae), an endangered species in Armenia. Christopher’s work involves using genome-wide markers, in order to evaluate the amount of genetic diversity among isolated populations, to model interconnectedness due to gene flow. This work will inform ongoing conservation and restoration efforts to protect this species in Armenia.


Claudia is studying the molecular mechanisms that underlie the epigenetic phenomenon of “paramutation”, a specific type of inheritance that deviates from the laws of genetic inheritance. The understanding of paramutation will elucidate the fundamental epigenetic mechanisms that enable genes to be switched ON and OFF and will ultimately increase our understanding of the evolution of species. In application, this work could be crucial for food security research by guiding plant breeders towards the generation and maintenance of novel plant varieties.

Ana Bravo Cazar Ana is studying plant viruses.  In particular, she is focusing on Cucumber Mosaic Virus (CMV) and how it interacts with its plant host and an insect transmitter. CMV is found all over the world and can infect many different plants, including ones grown for food such as tomatoes, pepper, lettuce, and of course, cucumber. Therefore by studying this virus, Ana hopes to develop management strategies to contain the spread of the virus that can be used in the field to prevent the infection of crops.

Carol studies the interactions between cereal crops and fungi. Her work focuses on rice - some fungi form beneficial relationships with rice, providing the rice with nutrients from the soil, but other fungi are pathogens and cause disease in the field. By understanding how these relationships occur, Carol hopes to help farmers develop management strategies for rice to encourage beneficial interactions with fungi and minimise the spread of disease. Carol’s work will therefore help towards greater food security in the future.

Chiara's current project investigates the evolution of the MYB-bHLH-WD40 (MBW) transcriptional complex that regulates the specification of cellular identity and anthocyanin biosynthesis.  In collaboration with Sam Brockington she is using sequencing data from the 1KP project to analyse the evolution of the MYB, bHLH and WD40 protein families that form the MBW complex.  By comparing proteins, DNA sequences and functional data in land plants she aims to elucidate the evolution of this multimeric complex, assessing when and how it originated, and how novel functional roles have arisen through molecular evolution.

Divya works on meiotic recombination. This is a process where during a special cell division, the genes of the two parents of an organism are shuffled and their offspring receives a mixture of these genes. This is the basis for genetic diversity, which is key to breeding new plant varieties with improved characteristics such as better disease resistance or greater yield. This work will therefore help breeders with crop improvement and contribute to food security in the future.
Gabriela studies the evolution of flower traits that are important for pollination. She is currently investigating how the texture of petals affects the ability of animal pollinators to reach the pollen and nectar in wild tobacco flowers. Understanding the molecular mechanisms behind petal texture could lead to the development of crops with petal textures that increase pollination. This work will therefore help breeders with crop improvement and contribute to food security in the future.
James looks at agricultural pesticides that combat fungal infections in crops. Pesticides become less effective over time, which can lead to crop yield losses and less food to go around. This is particularly problematic in the face of an increasing global population, and so he develops mathematical models to predict the best ways of increasing the effectiveness of these pesticides. His models, which consider the evolution of the fungus and the farmer’s finances among other factors, could therefore help towards global food security in the future.
Jéssica’s work is centred on sugarcane in Brazil. One of her projects is looking at the sustainability of bioethanol production from sugarcane, with a focus on greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, bioethanol production from sugarcane releases huge amounts of nitrous oxide, which is much worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. From her work however Jéssica has learnt that altering fertiliser usage can affect nitrous oxide emissions. This information can be used to develop fertiliser management strategies for more sustainable bioethanol production.
        Matt researches algae, which are incredibly diverse but not well understood. Algae can be used for a number of different things such as for ‘bioenergy’, cleaning up contaminants in waste, removing carbon dioxide from the air and making healthy products like omega-3 and antioxidants. Matt’s work will help develop these areas further. Algae therefore could be the answer to problems like global warming and the future energy crisis – and also provide us a sustainable way to get the nutrients we need from our food.