Keynote Speakers

Erik Murchie Prof. Erik Murchie

University of Nottingham, UK

I’m fascinated by all aspects of plant life and especially how plants respond to the environment around them which occurs in surprisingly diverse and dynamic ways. My research concerns crop plants and the way they convert solar energy into food, fuel and materials for our consumption. Improving this process is the goal. I’d like to talk about the fascinating mechanisms that plants have evolved in this area and how we might use nature’s existing diversity as a guide to improve agriculture sustainably.

My current research focuses on wheat and rice (the key food crops of our age) to examine how canopy architecture i.e the 3 Dimensional structure of plants affects the way in which they intercept and convert light into biomass. We like utilising novel approaches e.g. imaging and deep learning techniques to understand how plant motion contributes to this process. We collaborate with those using traits and genes from wild relatives of wheat to try and regain properties that may have been lost during domestication and breeding, such resources will be useful for producing crops that can deal with future climates that are likely to be challenging in comparison with today. And I said all that with barely a mention of the word ‘photosynthesis’ which is the process that my lab spends most of their time measuring.



CarolineDeanProf. Dame Caroline Dean

John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK 

Chromatin regulation and non-coding transcription are now seen as major factors regulating gene expression in most eukaryotic genomes. Through the study of how plants time developmental transitions, we have discovered that Arabidopsis floral repressor FLC is an excellent system in which to dissect how non-coding transcription and chromatin mechanisms regulate gene expression. FLC expression is quantitatively modulated by an antisense-mediated chromatin mechanism that coordinately influences transcription initiation and elongation. Expression is then epigenetically silenced through a cold-induced, cis-based, Polycomb switching mechanism. The talk will describe our latest understanding of these conserved mechanisms and how they have been modulated during adaptation.



Joop VermeerProf. Joop Vermeer

University of Zurich, Switzerland 

How is membrane identity regulated? How is this modified during development and upon stress responses? How are these responses integrated during development? How is differential growth regulated? How do cells communicate during this process? These questions have always driven my scientific curiosity. My research focusses on how plants integrate chemical and mechanical signals during plant development. My group combines live cell imaging with cell type specific manipulation of cellular properties and transcriptome sequencing to better understand organ formation in plants. Currently we are using Arabidopsislateral root formation as a model system. The long-term goal of our work is to better understand how we can adapt root system architecture to increase plant production also under challenging environmental conditions.


I will talk about how we use cell type specific promoters as surgical blades to dissect lateral root development. Through development of novel genetic tools combined with 4D live cell imaging of cellular differentiation we are dissecting the interaction between different cell layers during lateral root formation. In parallel, we are using forward genetics and cell type specific transcriptome profiling to build an expression atlas describing the underlying regulatory network of this developmental process. Lastly, I will also show some recent results of some new branches of research where we try to get a better insight into how conserved the mechanism of cell shape regulation are in an evolutionary context.



Sofie GoormachtigProf. Sofie Goormachtig

VIB, Ghent, Belgium

My research focusses on how interactions between plant roots and neighboring organisms influence plant growth. Initially, the emphasis was on the endosymbiosis between legumes and rhizobia, resulting in the formation of new root organs, the nodules, in which the rhizobia reside and fix atmospheric nitrogen for the plant.

Currently, my group study two rhizosphere related events. We study how strigolactones, important rhizosphere molecules, control parasitic plant germination. We pursue a combined proteomics, transcriptomics and genetic approach to elucidate the signaling components acting downstream of strigolactone perception by the parasitic plant seed. Secondly, we are interested in the mechanisms of plant growth promotion by rhizosphere bacteria in Zea mays (maize) and Arabidopsis thaliana. We are exploring the microbial community composition and its effects on plant growth regulating molecular networks in changing environmental conditions.



Matthew Reynolds2 Dr. Matthew Reynolds

CIMMYT, Mexico

I have worked at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) based in Mexico since 1989, where my professional goals are to develop and transfer technologies to improve wheat cropping systems worldwide. The challenge of using and improving our understanding of physiological processes in plants to improve crop productivity, especially in climate-challenged environments, has been the driving force for this research. Working at CIMMYT provides the opportunity to link basic plant research to farm level productivity via many disciplines, including phenomics, genomics, economics, exploration of genetic diversity and breeding.  It has been a highly rewarding experience to be part of a global community of scientists, farmers and other stakeholders through collaboration and knowledge sharing. Impacts from the CIMMYT Wheat Physiology Lab include a new generation of advanced lines based on physiological breeding approaches to widen the wheat genepool, increased understanding of yield potential and adaptation of wheat to drought and heat stress, development of high throughput phenotyping methodologies, and capacity building. To further these goals I have been active in developing global collaborations to tap into the expertise of plant scientists worldwide –such as the International Wheat Yield Partnership– and the Heat and Drought Wheat Improvement Consortium I also lead the community of practice on crop modelling for the CGIAR Big Data in Agriculture platform, and am a board member of the Global Plant Council


SaoirseEPSRDr. Saoirse Tracy

University College Dublin (Ireland)

Dr. Tracy’s research interests include using X-ray Computed Tomography (CT) to understand the response of roots to the soil physical environment. She applies her skills and experience of X-ray CT, soil science, hydrology, plant biology and image analysis to answer further questions about the rhizosphere and plant function. Dr. Tracy’s group research root:soil interactions using non-destructive imaging. Dr. Tracy is Director of the UCD X-ray CT facility and founded and chairs  the Irish Plant Phenotyping Network.  She moved to UCD to take up a position as Assistant Professor in Applied Plant Biology in 2015 after completing 3 years as a Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham, U.K. Dr. Tracy completed her PhD in 2012 at the University of Nottingham, U.K and investigated the response of root system architecture to soil compaction.


DanielGibbsDr. Daniel Gibbs

University of Birmingham (UK)

Daniel Gibbs’ research is focused on understanding how plants use targeted protein degradation (proteolysis) as a mechanism for sensing and responding to signals derived from their environment. His group utilises diverse molecular approaches to uncover new functions for proteolysis during plant growth and stress responsiveness. After completing his PhD (2009) on lateral root development with Dr Juliet Coates at the University of Birmingham (Gibbs et al 2014 New Phytologist), Dan joined the lab of Professor Michael Holdsworth at the University of Nottingham, where his postdoctoral work helped to delineate the molecular basis through which plants perceive and respond to low-oxygen stress and the signaling molecule nitric oxide (Gibbs et al 2011 Nature; 2014 Molecular Cell). In 2012 he began a Nottingham Advanced Research Fellowship, before moving to a tenure-tracked 5 year Fellowship position at the University of Birmingham in 2013, where he is currently a Senior Research Fellow. Current projects in Birmingham – funded by the BBSRC and an ERC starter grant – are investigating roles for co-translational protein degradation in plant development, and exploring how proteolytic control of chromatin modifying proteins regulates epigenetic responses to environmental change (Gibbs et al 2018 Nature Communications).


Zoe WilsonProf. Zoe Wilson

University of Nottingham (UK)

I am interested in how the plant controls the production of pollen and the regulatory gene networks that are involved in this pathway. We have been working with a number of transcription factors that are expressed in the maternal tapetum tissue of the anther, which control the formation of the pollen wall and regulate the progression of pollen development. These gene networks are highly conserved across species and we have translated this knowledge from Arabidopsis to crops such as rice, barley and wheat. The aims of this are to characterise the reproductive processes in the crops so that we can develop effective breeding systems for hybrid development to improve crop yields. Of particular interest is the impact of abiotic stress on pollen development and the damaging effect that it can have on crop fertility and thus yield. Abiotic stress can result in failure of pollen development, which results in significant losses in yield and productivity. This is therefore a major future challenge to maintain crop yields alongside climate change and extremes in weather.