Research on plants covers a broad range of topics, from cell biology to virology, and epidemiology to tropical ecology. There are particular strengths in gene silencing, photosynthesis and chloroplast biology, intracellular signaling and plant development. There are links to the themes of developmental biology, cell signaling, ecology and conservation, evolutionary biology, infection and molecular cell biology.
Plant-based research in biofuels and bioenergy is being developed by consortia of several laboratories within the School of the Biological Sciences with research groups in other Schools and with commercial partners. Close interactions between academic and commercial plant science laboratories in the Cambridge area are facilitated through the Cambridge Partnership for Plant Science.
The model plant Arabidopsis thaliana is the subject of research in a majority of research groups, and Cambridge contains the largest number of researchers working on Arabidopsis in any UK university. The Cambridge Centre for Proteomics was set up to provide a service to the UK Arabidopsis community, funded by the BBSRC Investigating Genome Function initiative and Cambridge researchers are strongly represented in GARNet, the UK Arabidopsis genomic resource network. We anticipate continued widespread use of Arabidopsis as a model plant, and intend to develop greater interaction and integration of research programmes. This is facilitated by a new state-of-the-art Plant Growth Facility in the Botanic Garden.
The plant collections at the Botanic Garden and in the Herbarium are vitally important for the future of plant science in Cambridge. A new institute for the study of plant development and diversity has been set up. The Sainsbury Laboratory, funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, will house up to 120 research scientists in 10-12 research groups. The research in the institute will answer fundamental questions on the mechanisms of plant development and the evolution of diversity, and these will inform scientific approaches in agriculture, plant systematics and conservation. The Sainsbury Laboratory building will house the Herbarium, which contains over 1 million specimens, including those collected by Darwin on the voyage of the Beagle, and the most comprehensive collection of the British flora in the world.
Many laboratories use sophisticated techniques for studies of single cells. Confocal microscopy of cells and tissues marked with green fluorescent protein (GFP) or other fluorescent proteins is used by many groups for studies of cell fates and cell division patterns, for subcellular localisation of proteins or for patterns of gene expression. Patch clamping and other electrophysiological methods are used to study ion channels in plants and yeast. Modeling and computational approaches to problems in plant science have been used very successfully in epidemiology and forest dynamics, and are being developed for studies of root development, circadian rhythms and metabolic signaling. Synthetic biology approaches, employing engineering methods for rational design of biological systems, are being used to modify plant form and metabolism by the introduction self-organising genetic circuits.