Professor Ian A Graham FRS
Head of Department and Weston Chair of Biochemical Genetics

Profile

Career

 

2014 - present Head of Department Department of Biology, University of York
2008 - 2013 CNAP Director CNAP, Department of Biology, University of York
2003 - 2008 CNAP Deputy Director CNAP, Department of Biology, University of York
1999 - present Chair of Biochemical Genetics Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP), Department of Biology, University of York
1998 - 1999 Senior Lecturer Division of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Glasgow
1994 SERC/NATO funded research scientist Department of Plant Biology, Carnegie Institute, Stanford
1993 - 1998 Lecturer Division of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Glasgow
1990 - 1993 Post-doctoral research fellow Department of Plant Science, University of Oxford
1986 - 1989 PhD PhD    Department of Botany, University of Edinburgh
1982 - 1986 BSc First Class Honours in Botany and Genetics The Queens University Belfast

Research

Overview

Plants make an amazing array of chemical structures, and we are interested in working out how they do this, plus how we can develop them to make useful molecules. I have two main areas of interest, one focused on understanding the regulation of processes associated with seed germination and the other focused on discovering and improving the production of high value chemicals in plants. Current projects range from lipid signals and transcription factors that control seed dormancy and germination to the development of novel oilcrops such as Jatropha curcas and medicinal crops such as Artemisia annua and Papaver somniferum (opium poppy).

Discoveries

Seed germination is crucial for survival of plants in the wild and is also important for commercial seed production where there is a need to ensure uniform growth. We have recently discovered that during seed development a transcription factor called SPATULA controls the expression of a network of five other regulatory genes that are known to affect when a seed germinates (Vaistij et al., 2013).    

With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we have developed improved varieties of the Artemisia annua plant, which is the source of artemisinin, the World Health Organisation recommended drug that kills the malaria parasite. Our studies have resulted in the first genetic map for the plant, published in the leading journal Science in 2010, and a partnership with industry that is delivering improved hybrid seed into the developing world supply chain (see project website for further details: http://www.york.ac.uk/org/cnap/artemisiaproject/index.htm).

 In partnership with GlaxoSmithKline Australia, we recently discovered the genetic basis for production of the antitussive and anticancer compound noscapine in opium poppy. A ten gene cluster encoding five different enzyme classes has evolved to produce noscapine, which is currently in early stage clinical trials in the USA. This breakthrough, published in the journal Science in 2012, will lead to the improved production of noscapine and related bioactive molecules. 

Projects

A sustainable supply of artemisinin from high-yield Artemisia annua for treatment of malaria 
Funding body: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
 
Molecular breeding of a commercial pharmaceutical crop
Funding body: Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Pty Ltd 

Understanding the regulation of alkaloid biosynthesis in opium poppy and breeding new varieties
Funding body: BBSRC (Industrial Partnership Award)

Multipurpose crops for industrial bioproducts and biomass (MultiHemp)
Funding body: EU

Using wild ancestor plants to make rice more resilient to increasingly unpredicable water availability
Funding body: BBSRC, DFID and (through a grant to the BBSRC) the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, under the Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development (SCPRID) programme, a joint initiative with the Department of Biotechnology of the  Government of India's Ministry of Science and Development

High Value Chemicals from Plants (HVCfP) network
Funding body: BBSRC

Light-independent sugar signalling in Arabidopsis
Funding body: BBSRC

Developing platforms for the production of diterpenoids
Funding body: Innovate UK

Research group(s)

StatusNameProject
Snr Research Administrator Judith Mitchell

Various including rice, poppy etc

Research Associate Dr Theresa Catania  Understanding the regulation of alkaloid biosynthesis in opium poppy and breeding new varieties
Senior Research Associate Dr Tomasz Czechowski A sustainable supply of artemisinin from high-yield Artemisia annua for treatment of malaria // Using wild ancestor plants to make rice more resilient to increasingly unpredictable water availability
Research Associate Dr Edith Forestier Developing platforms for the production of diterpenoids
Senior Research Associate Dr Andrew King Developing platforms for the production of diterpenoids
Senior Research Associate Dr Tony Larson Leads CNAP Metabolite Profiling Unit (50% time)
Senior Research Associate Dr Yi Li Head of CNAP Bioinformatics Unit 
Research Associate Dr Marta Mendes Understanding the regulation of alkaloid biosynthesis in opium poppy and breeding new varieties
Research Associate Dr Angela Roman-Fernandez Light-independent sugar signalling in Arabidopsis
Senior Research Associate Dr Fabian Vaistij Various (Arabidopsis based)
Senior Research Associate Dr Thilo Winzer Head of CNAP Molecular Breeding Unit
  Dr Caroline Calvert High Value Chemicals from Plants (HVCfP) Network / A sustainable supply of artemisinin from high-yield Artemisia annua for treatment of malaria / Developing platforms for the production of diterpenoids
  Dr Wendy Lawley High Value Chemicals from Plants (HVCfP) Network / A sustainable supply of artemisinin from high-yield Artemisia annua for treatment of malaria
PhD student  Keir Bailey Investigating the heterologous expression of plant secondary metabolic enzymes to produce curcuminoids and curcuminoid derivatives
PhD student Marc Cabry Structural analysis of dioxygenases (co-supervisor Prof Gideon Davies, YSBL)
PhD student Adama Cole Factors regulating the control of dormancy and seed germination in the model oilseed Arabidopsis
Senior Research Technician Samantha Donninger Molecular breeding of a commercial pharmaceutical crop
Technician Heather Eastmond Light-independent sugar signalling in Arabidopsis
Senior Research Technician Alison Gilday Developing platforms for the production of diterpenoids
Technical Specialist David Harvey

CNAP Metabolite Profiling Unit

Senior Research Technician, (70% FTE) Jennifer Hodson Poppy research
Senior Research Technician Caragh Whitehead Multipurpose crops for industrial bioproducts and biomass (MultiHemp)

Available PhD research projects

Seed Germination and Oil Mobilisation (for 2016-17)

Plants have evolved to alter how they grow and develop in response to signals from the environment. A good example of this is the process of seed germination, which marks the start of growth following a period of quiescence or dormancy. Seed dormancy controls the timing of germination and provides an important adaptive strategy for survival during periods of unfavourable environmental conditions. Seed dormancy is also an extremely important trait for crop improvement since it controls pre-harvest sprouting and the uniformity of seed germination and seedling growth. 

In the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana dormancy is induced during the seed maturation phase and is highest in freshly harvested seeds. The dormancy block on germination is removed by imbibing seeds at low temperatures (stratification).  In nature this ensures that seeds only germinate in spring when conditions are good for growth. Dormancy is also removed following prolonged periods of dry storage referred to as after-ripening. Two plant hormones play a crucial, antagonistic role in regulating dormancy/germination: abscisic acid (ABA) promotes dormancy and inhibits germination, whereas gibberellin (GA) promotes germination. We have made a number of important discoveries about the underlying molecular mechanisms associated with the control of seed dormancy and germination including identifying how transcription factors such as SPATULA, DELLAS, ABA-INSENSITIVE-4 and MOTHER-OF-FT influence dormancy in developing seeds (Vaistij et al., 2013). We have also discovered that a lipid based signalling molecule, OPDA, interacts with ABA to regulate seed dormancy (Dave et al., 2011; Dave and Graham, 2012).

Our investigations are now focussed on how these different regulatory components interact to control seed dormancy and germination. This PhD studentship will further our knowledge of seed germination in Arabidopsis and should also lead to the identification of key genes that can be targeted for crop improvement. Techniques such as chromatin-immuno precipitation (ChIP) will be used to identify the targets of transcription factors that we know play a key role in the control of germination based on mutant phenotypes. Resulting data will be compared with transcriptomic datasets from mutant and wild type plants to identify common gene targets. The student will receive a comprehensive training in seed biology, molecular genetics and bioinformatic analysis of large datasets.  

References:

Dave, A., Hernandez, L., He, Z., Andriotis, V.M., Vaistij, F.E., Larson, T.R., Graham, I.A. (2011).  12-oxo-phytodienoic acid (OPDA) accumulation during seed development represses seed germination in Arabidopsis. Plant Cell, 23: 583-599.

Dave, A. and Graham, I.A. (2012). Oxylipin signaling: a distinct role for the jasmonic acid precursor cis-(+)-12-oxo-phytodienoic acid (cis-OPDA). Frontiers in Plant Science, 3: 1-6.

Vaistij, F.E., Gan, Y., Penfield, S.D., Gilday, A., Dave, A., He, Z., Josse, E-M., Choi, J., Halliday, K.J. and Graham, I.A. (2013). Differential control of seed primary dormancy in Arabidopsis ecotypes by the transcription factor SPATULA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 110: 10866-71.

For further information please see: http://www.york.ac.uk/biology/centrefornovelagriculturalproducts/training/

Professor Ian A Graham

Contact details

Prof. Ian A Graham FRS
Head of Department and Weston Chair of Biochemical Genetics
Department of Biology
University of York
York
YO10 5DD

Tel: 01904 328750

http://www.york.ac.uk/org/cnap/