Constructing a shareable toolkit

Dr Philip Carella

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.

Dr Susana Sauret-Gueto

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Dr. Susana Sauret-Gueto is an experienced molecular biologist and microscopist, with a scientific background in plant growth and development.

In the OpenPlant Cambridge laboratory, she coordinates the establishment of semiautomated workflows to accelerate the generation and characterisation of genetically engineered Marchantia lines. This requires standardised practices for DNA parts building, as well as appropriate registries to facilitate sharing of resources (DNA parts and transformed plants). Susana is establishing a new facility for robotic liquid-handling around the Echo acoustic liquid handler, and an advanced microscopy facility. The microscopy hub includes a Keyence digital microscope for real-time 3D reconstruction of Marchantia plants, as well as a series of fluorescent microscopes with different resolution capabilities, for example a Leica stereo microscope with fluorescence as well as a Leica SP8 confocal microscope.

The projects being developed along these workflows aim at mapping cell and tissue types throughout Marchantia gemmae development, for basic research questions and synthetic biology approaches. The strategies include the identification of cell types by screening Enhancer Trap lines, a collection of proximal promoters from transcription factors and its screening for specific expression patterns, a high-throughput targeted mutagenesis pipeline using CRISPR/Cas9, and the induction of localised genetic modifications through sector analysis. Susana helps managing and coordinating these interlinked projects working closely with Linda Silvestri, lab Research Technician in charge of Marchantia tissue culture, as well as with the Marchantia team of PhD and postdoc members of the lab. She is specially interested in the sector analysis project in order to dissect gene function and autonomy at the cell and tissue level.

Susana is also the main organiser of the ROC Group (Researchers with OpenPlant Cambridge), which brings together researchers in Cambridge doing Plant Synthetic Biology, both from CU and SLCU, to share common scientific interests, resources and protocols. Researchers work in a variety of plant species, but there are two core subgroups Algae-ROC and Marchantia-ROC. People are very engaged and active, which is making a difference in order to advance projects and pipelines in an efficient and collaborative way.

Dr Orr Yarkoni

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I’ve been involved in Synthetic Biology for better part of the last decade. My PhD work at Newcastle University focused on facilitating bio-electronic interface via engineered pathways as part of a larger collaborative grant to create a bio-robotic hybrid device. My more recent work at the University of Cambridge was on developing a field-use whole-cell Arsenic Biosensor for deployment in South Asia (

I’m relatively new at working with plants and the opportunity to reengineer the Marchantia polymorpha plastid as part of the Open Plant initiative is a great point of transition into this sphere. The main focus of my contribution to Open Plant is to reconstruct the entire 121kb plastid genome in a way that makes it easier to manipulate, facilitating future work on plastid transformation in M. polymorpha and, in time, other plants. I am also working together with Haydn King from the Ajioka Lab on creating a codon optimised reporter toolkit for use in the M. polymorpha plastid, consisting of a 13 fluorescent reporters across a wide spectrum ranging from near UV to near infrared. The codon optimisation platform should also become a useful tool for future work on plastid manipulation, in Marchantia and beyond.

I worked with Jim Ajioka and Jonathan Openshaw on a science/arts collaborative project that came to be known as Syn City. The idea was to create dynamic, living sculptures using modified E. coli such that all the “paint” was living. Jonathan designed 3D printed structures of which we made moulds to cast Agar with an integrated 3D printed mesh skeleton. The modified bacteria could then be deposited on the structure, which developed colour over time.