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 Katherine Denby, disease resistance, gene regulatory networks, synthetic biology, breeding disease resistant crops, plant defence, plant-pathogen interactions, computational biology, network modelling

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

Dr Andrea Harper, Lecturer: Plant Biology, statistical genetics

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

Dr Louise Jones, Senior 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

Dr Luke Mackinder, Lecturer: Molecular and Cell Biology, synthetic biology, photosynthesis, carbon assimilation, carbon cycling

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

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

 Recent news

 Ash tree (x70)

Could disease 'tolerance' genes give new life to UK ash trees?

Plant explosives (x70)

Fighting contaminated land with help from the humble fruit fly

Plant leaf (x70)

Plant 'chemical factory' could produce variety of commercial products

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

Genome sequence and genetic diversity of European ash trees.  Bancroft et al.  2016 Nature

Resolving the ‘Nitrogen Paradox’ of arbuscular mycorrhizas: fertilization with organic matter brings considerable benefits for plant nutrition and growth.  Hodge et al.  2016 Plant, Cell and Environment

Elucidation of the genetic basis of variation for stem strength characteristics in bread wheat by Associative Transcriptomics. Bancroft et al.  2016 BMC Genomics

Molecular markers for tolerance of European ash (Fraxinus excelsior) to dieback disease identified using Associative Transcriptomics. Bancroft et al. 2016, Nature