Plant biology icon

Plant Biology Research

Researchers at York address fundamental problems from across plant biology including physiological adaptation, plant nutrition, primary and secondary metabolism and intracellular and intercellular signalling.  These scientists use diverse approaches spanning classical molecular genetics and biochemistry through post-genomic and advanced imaging technologies.


Research in the Plant Biology addresses all the three global challenges that the Department of Biology has prioritised. Below are examples of how plant biology research benefits society. You will find further examples in the Impact pages.

Sustainable food
and fuel
Impacting on health and disease

plant munitions

Bomb-defusing plants

‌‌rice on plant

Climate resilient rice

Artemisia Madagasca 160w

Fast track breeding to tackle Malaria

Examples of plant biology projects

P4FIFTY is an FP7 funded European Marie Curie Training network led from York consisting of academic and industrial researchers looking to develop enzymatic methods for green oxidation chemistry through the isolation, redesign and application of cytochrome P450 enzymes.

Sustainable Liquid Biofuels from Biorefining (SUNLIBB) integrates Brazilian expertise in sugar cane breeding and bioethanol process engineering with EU expertise in genomics, plant science and green chemistry to open the way for sustainable lignocellulosic bioethanol production.

PHYTOCAT Catalysing the recovery of metals. Researchers from the Departments of Biology and Chemistry are investigating how plants extract platinum group metals from soil and redeposit the metal as nanoparticles. They aim to develop a green method for extracting metals from mine tailings that are currently uneconomical to recover.‌

Academic staff associated with Plant Biology

Professor Ian Bancroft, Professor of Plant Genomics: the ways in which plant genome evolution impacts trait variation in crops

Professor Dianna J Bowles, OBE, Emeritus: how plants respond and adapt to environmental stresses including both abiotic, such as physical injury, and biotic, such as pathogen challenge

Professor Neil Bruce, Professor of Biotechnology: metabolism of xenobotic compounds, particularly explosives and engineering plants for phytoremediation applications

Professor Seth J Davis, Professor of Plant Biology: the plant circadian system and stress adaptation derived as a clock output

Professor Alastair Fitter, OBE, FRS: plant and microbial behaviour in a changing world, including belowground ecology and functional ecology of roots and mycorrhizal symbioses

Professor Ian A Graham, Head of Department and Weston Chair of Biochemical Genetics: regulation of processes associated with seed germination and discovering and improving the production of high value chemicals in plants

Professor Sue Hartley, Director of York Environmental Sustainability Institute: interactions between plants and insect and mammalian herbivores as well as fungi and parasitic plants

Dr Mike Haydon, Lecturer: molecular and physiological adaptation to environment; integration of sugar and light signalling in plants

Dr Angela Hodge, Reader: plant-soil-microbe interactions particularly those involving mycorrhizal fungi and nutrient cycling in soil systems

Dr Louise Jones, Lecturer: RNA biology and post-transcriptional control of gene expression

Dr Frans Maathuis, Reader: plant nutrition and stress, molecular mechanisms of ion uptake and translocation

Professor Simon McQueen-Mason, Director of the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) and Chair of Materials Biology: plant cell wall biology for second generation liquid biofuels and understanding extensibility

Dr Kelly Redeker, Lecturer: soil-plant-atmosphere system for exchange of nitrogen, sulfur, chlorine, bromine and iodine

Dr Michael Schultze, Lecturer: characterisation of genes involved in the development and functioning of arbuscular mycorrhizas

Dr Richard Waites, Lecturer: use of genetic and computational techniques to study how and why plants make leaves of different shapes

 Recent news

 Arabidopsis seeds

Mother knows best: how seeds recognise the seasons

 Oilseed rape

Research sows the seeds of improved diet

Biofuel plant

Plant variants point the way to improved biofuel production

Research Centres linked to Plant Biology

Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP)

York Environmental Sustainability Institute (YESI)

Biorenewables Development Centre (BDC)

Examples of high profile publications

A H+-ATPase That Energizes Nutrient Uptake during Mycorrhizal Symbioses in Rice and Medicago truncatula. Wang et al. 2014, Plant Cell

Natural variation reveals that intracellular distribution of ELF3 protein is associated with function in the circadian clock. Usman Anwer et al. 2014, eLife

Photosynthetic entrainment of the Arabidopsis thaliana circadian clock. Haydon et al. 2013, Nature

Structural characterization of a unique marine animal family 7 cellobiohydrolase suggests a mechanism of cellulase salt tolerance. Kern et al. 2013, PNAS

A Papaver somniferum 10-gene cluster for synthesis of the anticancer alkaloid noscapine. Winzer et al. 2012, Science

Biotic carbon feedbacks in a materially closed soil–vegetation–atmosphere system. Milcu et al . 2012, Nature Climate Change

Plasma membrane cyclic nucleotide gated calcium channels control land plant thermal sensing and acquired thermotolerance. Finka et al. 2012, Plant Cell

A GRAS-Type transcription factor with a specific function in mycorrhizal signaling. Gobbatto et al. 2012, Curr. Biol