1985 …2021

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Research interests

Work in my laboratory concentrates on how plants cope with biotic and abiotic stress, using both barley and Arabidopsis as experimental species. In particular I am interested in environmental stresses such as heat, cold, drought and salinity that have a negative impact on plant productivity; it is highly probable that these stresses will increase in the future due to the effects of climate change, thus compromising agricultural yields and crop quality.

In a project funded by the Scotch Whisky Association, the trade body for the industry, we have been investigating new approaches to improving the drought resistance of barley, the crop that underpins the brewing and distilling industry. For example, we have compared the root and leaf proteomes of European malting barley with those of a barley variety grown in Iraq. The Middle East is the origin of domestication of barley, and cereals from this part of the world have to be much more tolerant of heat and drought. We found many differences in protein expression between the barley varieties under drought stress conditions, in particular we found certain transcription factors are up-regulated in the roots of the drought tolerant variety. Our current work aims to build on these findings by manipulating the levels of these proteins in transgenic malting barley in order to see if we can enhance stress tolerance, thus preparing the way for conventional breeding approaches to ingress the genes from stress tolerant lines into commercial varieties.

We are also investigating the molecular mechanisms of stress signal transduction in barely and Arabidopsis, particularly MAP kinase signal transduction pathways. These conserved eukaryotic protein kinase cascades are involved in many different aspects of plant physiology, but particularly in the response of plants to pathogens and environmental stress. The use of genetic, biochemical and molecular biological techniques has allowed us to explore the MPK4 pathway in Arabidopsis in great detail, showing that MEKK1, MKK1, MKK2 and MPK4 are involved in the negative regulation of the defense hormone salicylic acid, and the positive regulation of jasmonic acid, a compound associated with defense against necrotrophs and environmental stress. Experimental manipulation of the expression levels of MAP kinase genes in barley has allowed us to generate cereal plants that are more tolerant to fungal pathogens or to environmental stress such as salt. Advances in microscopy, especially super resolution imaging of fluorescent proteins, has now allowed us to investigate the dynamics of MAP kinase protein localization and protein-protein interactions in the Arabidopsis MPK4 pathway in response to the bacterial PAMP flagellin. 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Devlopment Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water


  • QK Botany
  • SB Plant culture


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