I completed my Ph.D in Biochemistry in 2016 at the University of Cambridge, under the guidance of Professor Christopher Howe and Dr Andrew Spicer of Algenuity. Together with collaborators, the Howe lab has pioneered the development of biological solar cells, which are able to produce current as a result of photosynthetic activity in cyanobacteria. I then joined Professor Patricia Harvey’s laboratory to work on the D-factory project, which aims to set up a sustainable CO2 algal biorefinary utilizing the algae Dunaliella. While there I also contributed to a European Commission report ‘food from the oceans’ as part of a high level group of scientific advisors. I have now returned to Chris Howe’s lab as part of the OpenPlant Project. The goal of this project is to create an overexpression system for transgenes that is sensitive to changed in electropotential.
It has been estimated that plants can produce over 1 million specialized metabolites, but we know less than 0.1 % of their biosynthetic pathways. Creative methods are eminently needed to look under the iceberg of largely untapped biosynthetic pathways. As a post-doc from Anne Osbourn group at John Innes Centre, I am employing multidisciplinary approaches across bioinformatics, genetics, and chemistry, to comprehensively understand how and why plants produce this hallmark of specialized metabolites.
I am currently focusing on plants from the Brassicaceae family and systematically studying the function, evolution and biosynthesis of triterpenes from this family. I am in particular interested in pathways encoded by gene clusters. It holds great potential to mine more and novel biosynthetic pathways efficiently. However, how and why plants have evolved BGCs is still a mystery. We are aiming to gain the first understanding of their assembly, patterns of evolution and common features in a systematic fashion. This knowledge can then be used as a template guiding the research of BGCs in other types of compounds and plant families.
I am a molecular biologist, with a background in plant transcription factors, flavonoid biosynthesis, natural colours and metabolic engineering.
In Cathie Martin’s lab at the John Innes Centre, we have recently developed novel suspension cultures from engineered tobacco plants, to obtain stable sources of natural colourants. These cultures can produce exceptionally high levels of red to purple anthocyanin pigments, and allow a scalable constitutive year-around production under controlled conditions.
Intense blue colours are rare in nature and difficult to reproduce in pigment formulations, which is the main reason why almost all blue food colourants are synthetic dyes. Our project aims to investigate the structural properties of anthocyanin preparations that confer strong and stable blue colours and to select for anthocyanins with improved stability as reliable natural colourants. Our goal is to extend our plant cell culture approach to develop the first production platform for blue anthocyanin colourants, to replace synthetic food dyes.
I obtained my PhD in Cell Biology from the University of Edinburgh, mentored by Prof. Jean D Beggs. During this time, I was interested in the spliceosome cycle, in the connection between splicing and transcription, and also in how proofreading factors help to prevent error in splicing. I spent a significant amount of time using the auxin-inducible degron to conditionally deplete essential proteins, and finding ways to improve this depletion system to get a faster and more tightly-controlled response.
My desire to embark on plant synthetic biology, while maintaining an interested in splicing and conditional expression systems, lead me to join the Plant Metabolism Group of Prof. Alison Smith in October 2017, to develop riboswitches as molecular tools to control transgene expression in algae, higher plants and other eukaryotes. The ultimate aim of this project is to develop novel inducible systems for metabolic engineering applications or as in vivo sensors of metabolites.
Mihails is a PhD student in the Haseloff Lab, with an Engineering background as an undegraduate. His research topic is the regulation of cell proliferation in Marchantia gemmae. In collaboration with Bernardo Pollak, he has developed an open source gene-centric database platform for managing genome data and synthetic DNA parts for Marchantia. He maintains a strong interest in enginnering approaches to biological problems, and explots his considerable expertise with electronics, optics and 3D printing to build and modify instrumentation for observing Marchantia cell dynamics.
His PhD research combines the construction of new marker genes, expression in Marchantia gemma, quantitative imaging and software analysis in order to map the dynamics of growth in gemmae. He has found evidence of long distance control of cell proliferation which can be deregulated by surgical manipulations.
I recently completed my PhD in Dr. Robin Cameron’s lab (McMaster University, Canada), where I studied phloem-mediated long-distance immune signalling induced by a bacterial pathogen in Arabidopsis thaliana. Feeling a need to branch out a little, I joined Dr. Sebastian Schornack’s group (Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge, UK) to study interactions between filamentous microbes and non-vascular early land plants. Our goal is to identify core developmental processes required for the colonization of early land plant tissues by filamentous microbes and to understand how these processes evolved into the defense and symbiotic programs employed by higher plants. Our work will generate transcriptomics data, fluorescent marker lines and microbe inducible promoters for cell biology, and other molecular-genetic tools that will enable the OpenPlant community to explore early land plant biology.