News and Events School of Biosciences Plant and Crop Sciences Division

School of Biosciences
Plant and Crop Sciences Division
News and Events
From the Editor.
A new roots lab, quinoa and cider
feature in this months newsletter. As
ever unsolicited contributions are
always welcome.
There will be a gathering in the foyer on
Wednesday October 8th at 1pm to
welcome a new cohort of students to the
Division. All Plant Science undergraduate
student, including five new first years will
be invited, along with new Masters
students on the PGM and CI masters
courses, and all new PhD students starting
in the Division. Everyone else is also
welcome. There will be refreshments.
The Kings group have two new post-docs:
Dr Andras Cseh is from Martonvasar in
Hungary and has a two year Marie Curie
Dr Glacy Da Silva. is here for one year as
part of a BBSRC Travel Award from
Universidade Federal de Pelotas, Brazil.
Jerry Roberts flips burgers at the Plant
and Crop Sciences Divsional BBQ
Gibbs, DJ; Voss, U; Harding, SA; Fannon, J;
Moody, LA; Yamada, E; Swarup, K; Nibau, C;
Bassel, GW; Choudhary, A; Lavenus, J;
Bradshaw, SJ; Stekel, DJ; Bennett, MJ;
Coates, JC (2014) AtMYB93 is a novel
negative regulator of lateral root development
in Arabidopsis. New Phytologist 203:11941207.
Li, G; Liang, WQ; Zhang, XQ; Ren, HY; Hu,
JP; Bennett, MJ; Zhang, DB (2014)
Rice actin-binding protein RMD is a key link in
the auxin-actin regulatory loop that controls
cell growth. Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences of the United States Of
America 111:10377-10382
Dyson, RJ; Vizcay-Barrena, G; Band, LR;
Fernandes, AN; French, AP; Fozard, JA;
Hodgman, TC; Kenobi, K; Pridmore, TP ;
Stout, M; Wells, DM; Wilson, MH; Bennett,
MJ; Jensen, OE (2014) Mechanical modelling
quantifies the functional importance of outer
tissue layers during root elongation and
bending. New Phytologist 202, 1212–1222.
Harrison, NA; Davis, RE ; Oropeza, C;
Helmick, EE; Narvaez, M; Eden-Green, S;
Dollet, M; Dickinson, M (2014) 'Candidatus
Phytoplasnna palmicola', associated with a
lethal yellowing-type disease of coconut
(Cocos nucifera L.) in Mozambique.
International Journal of Systematic And
Evolutionary Microbiology 64:1890-1899.
(in no particular order)
Gomez, JF; Wilson, ZA (2014) A barley PHD
finger transcription factor that confers male
sterility by affecting tapetal development. Plant
Biotechnology Journal 12:765-777.
Carvalho, P; Azam-Ali, S; Foulkes, MJ (2014)
Quantifying relationships between rooting traits
and water uptake under drought in
Mediterranean barley and durum wheat.
Journal of Integrative Plant Biology 56: 455469.
Feldman, AB; Murchie, EH; Leung, H;
Baraoidan, M Coe, R; Yu, SM; Lo, SF; Quick,
WP (2014) Increasing leaf vein density by
mutagenesis: Laying the foundations for C-4
Rice. PLOS ONE 9: e94947.
Mangalassery, S; Sjogersten, S; Sparkes, DL;
Sturrock, CJ; Craigon, J; Mooney, SJ (2014)
To what extent can zero tillage lead to a
reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from
temperate soils? Scientific Reports
4: 4586.
Mellor, N; Bishopp, A (2014 The innermost
secrets of root development Science 345:
Joy, EJM ; Ander, EL; Young, SD; Black, CR;
Watts, MJ; Chilimba, ADC; Chilima, B;
Siyame, EWP; Kalimbira, AA; Hurst, R;
Fairweather-Tait, SJ; Stein, AJ; Gibson, RS;
White, PJ; Broadley, MR (2014) Dietary
mineral supplies in Africa
Physiologia Plantarum 151:208-229 Special
Issue: SI.
Scanning variation in root growth
As recently published by
Adu, MO; Chatot, A; Wiesel, L; Bennett, MJ;
Broadley, MR; White, PJ; Dupuy, LX (2014)
A scanner system for high-resolution
quantification of variation in root growth
dynamics of Brassica rapa genotypes
Journal of Experimental Botany 65:2039-2048.
Peter Alderson, long serving academic at Sutton Bonington recently retired and
was presented with a leaving gift by Professor Jerry Roberts. Peter had been
with the University over 38 years and recently was the major force behind
establishing biotechnology related degrees at Nottingham’s Malaysian campus.
We send him all good wishes for his retirement.
Jerry Roberts, Peter Alderson and Peter’s wife, Ruth.
Tim Robbins, Matt Dickinson, Peter Alderson and Grantley Lycett
A University of Nottingham PhD student and arable farmer is to showcase his unique new
crop on the BBC’s popular Sunday evening programme ’Countryfile’ this weekend.
Stephen Jones from Shropshire is doing a PhD in crop science at the University’s School
of Biosciences at Sutton Bonington. Alongside his studies at the University, Stephen
established The British Quinoa Company which now produces British grown quinoa on his
family’s farm and currently holds the exclusive UK rights to grow the only quinoa varieties
bred for the European climate.
It has taken Stephen many years of on-farm research to get his production practices right
and is now in his second year of full scale commercial production.
Quinoa is a nutty-tasting, high protein, gluten free grain which originates from South
America and until now has been difficult to grow commercially in Northern European
climates. Stephen’s smart business plan to exclusively grow and sell British quinoa was a
winner in the University’s Student Venture Challenge last year.
Now, BBC TV’s Countryfile has visited Stephen on his farm near Ellesmere to find out how
he has been experimenting with quinoa production and developed a good practice for
growing the crop commercially in the British climate. Stephen is now the exclusive
provider of the grain to famous chains like Pret-A-Manger and his family business is
launching its own range of products this autumn after harvest.
Stephen said: “Countryfile has been a fantastic way for us to raise the profile of this new
British grain and we hope to have a large increase in our production area over the next
few years to satisfy a rapidly growing market”
Stephen’s PhD work at Nottingham has helped his business by unravelling the mysteries
of how differences in plant physiology can help a crop adapt to a new environment.
Specifically in his research he is aiming to identify physiological traits in wheat that are
able to confer passive resistance to a wheat disease, Fusarium Head Blight (FHB).
Countryfile’s report on Stephen and his unique arable adventure was featured on 24th
August 2014.
For more information see
A multidisciplinary team of scientists at The University of Nottingham are using some of
the most advanced X-ray micro Computed Tomography (CT) scanners to learn how to
design plant roots so they can interact better with soil and capture water and nutrients
more efficiently. This non-invasive technology will help Nottingham unearth some of the
answers to one of the biggest challenges facing the world today — global food security.
Malcolm Bennett, Professor of Plant Sciences, said: “For the first time in 10,000 years of
plant breeding, we can see a plant’s root architecture directly in the soil, as it is in the
field, and use this information to select the most efficient varieties for farmers to grow.”
The new Hounsfield Facility, on the University’s Sutton Bonington Campus, brings
together specialists from the Schools of Biosciences, Computer Science, Mathematics
and Engineering to delve into the ‘Rhizosphere’ — the thin layer of soil directly influenced
by the proteins and sugars released by roots and inhabited by microorganisms that live
off discarded plant cells. The Nottingham scientists are using the CT equipment and
novel image analysis techniques to understand how roots of different crop varieties take
up water and nitrogen. The aim is to find plants that use water and nutrients most
efficiently to produce higher yields in more challenging conditions — such as drought and
Visualising plant root behaviour from seed to flowering
The Hounsfield Facility is equipped with three CT scanners — capable of imaging objects
as fine as a soil particle or a root hair to a fully mature root system. It has a fully
automated greenhouse which is manned by the laser guided robot, needed to feed the
1m long, 80kg samples to the largest scanner. The research centre has been named
after Sir Godfrey Hounsfield, the electrical engineer from Newark in Nottinghamshire,
who shared the 1979 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his part in developing the diagnostic
technique of X-ray Computed Tomography (CT). With these scanners and specialised
image analysis methods Nottingham researchers can image the structure of plant roots in
a non-destructive way growing through soil throughout the life of the plant — from seed
to flowering.
Imaging the hidden half of plants
Sacha Mooney, Professor of Soil Physics said: “We have finally overcome a major obstacle to
our research. The opacity of soil prevented us from being able to see how roots actually grow
in their natural environment. Using X-rays we can now ‘see-through’ the soil and visualise
roots in 3D, offering new insights into the previously ‘hidden half’ of a plant. These new
imaging technologies combined with biological resources have helped to create a worldleading facility with the tools that will radically improve our efforts to increase crop
There’s a small high resolution scanner for visualising fine details such as single roots, root
hairs and the soil around them: a medium scale micro CT scanner to image an entire root
system: and a large custom designed CT system to look at plants such as wheat throughout
its whole growth cycle from seed to flowering — bringing the field closer to the lab than ever
before. X-ray CT produces a 3D image of the scanned sample. The RooTrak image analysis
software, developed by experts in the University’s School of Computer Science, identifies root
material within those images and builds a 3D model of the root system that can be viewed
from any angle.
Tony Pridmore, Professor of Computer Science, said: “The problem with CT images is that
roots and soil can appear very similar, and identical in some cases. RooTrak treats the 3D
image as a set of 2D slices — a video — and tracks roots as they weave and branch through
the soil. This allows it to adapt to the roots’ surroundings and extract root segments that can
be stitched together to create a 3D model.” The tracking method has recently been extended
to allow RooTrak to separate one root system from another when multiple plants are grown in
the same pot. This leads to 3D models showing the interactions between neighbouring, and
even touching, root systems as they exist in an agricultural field competing for water and
Research and commercial collaborations
The new centre has been funded by the European Research Council, BBSRC, the Wolfson
Foundation and The University of Nottingham.
The scanners are also well suited to analysing a whole range of bio and non-biomaterials such
as carbon fibres, food products, and electrical components. The team works with a wide range
of local and national groups including Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and
Science, the Faculty of Engineering, the British Geological Survey, several multinational food
companies and even Michelin starred chefs!
Official opening
The new Hounsfield Facility will be officially opened on The University of Nottingham’s Sutton
Bonington Campus by Professor Jackie Hunter, CE of the Biotechnology and Biological
Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). Sir Godfrey Hounsfield’s niece will also attend
representing the Hounsfield family.
Once more this hotly contested competiton was held at the home of
Rupert and Zsuzsa Fray with a stunning array of home made ciders up for
consideration. 22 different ciders were tasted along with two internal
controls of commercial cider (Old Rosie). Several different brews were
entered by Rupert himself, Mike Davey and Kevin Pyke, and Grantley
Lycett, along with Rachael Hackett and others.
After due consideration and a highly complex voting procedure after blind
tasting, the winner was proudly announced as a brew by young Fray
himself, rather acidly entitled “Pykesbane”. A jolly good cider it was too.
So once more the Sutton Bonnington cider cup is retained by this demon
brewer and efforts by his competitors to wrestle the trophy off of him and
move it north of the Soar must be increased next year!
Kevin Pyke presented Rupert Fray with the Sutton Bonington Cider cup was
winner for 2014
I hail from the University of Massachusetts Amherst Dept of Biology, where I study
plant growth. I have been particularly interested in anistropic expansion, and I have
used roots as experimental material. Through my preoccupation with the hidden
half, I got to know Malcolm Bennett and the CPIB crew. In fact, my lab became an
International Collaborator of the centre's. I was impressed by the genuine
interdisciplinary approach that goes on and so when my sabbatical leave came
around I sought to spend it here. Fortunately, the 7th Framework of the EU looked
kindly on this sojourn and awarded me a Marie Curie International Incoming
Fellowship for the year. I arrived in early August and will be spending a twelvemonth.
I have two projects. One arises directly out of my interest in growth
anisotropy and that is to develop a good system for studying growth in stems. There
are a number of reasons to leave roots for this this project, not least of which is to
connect with a large body of prior work. To illustrate what is at issue, consider auxin,
the original plant hormone and one discovered based on its ability to promote
growth. But in assays, growth is taken as elongation, as in making a stem get
longer. Does auxin also make the stem get wider? Almost no one has ever asked. A
facile system for measuring stem growth will provide an answer, and likewise will
help provide answers to other outstanding questions about how stems grow.
The second project is on roots. We know that roots have a meristem where
cells divide and expand slowly and an elongation zone where they don't divide and
expand rapidly. How do these zones retain their distinct character even as cells
move rapidly from meristem to elongation zone? This project will involve setting up
high resolution measurements of cells as they grow and experiments where different
cellular attributes are perturbed and assaying the consequences for root zonation. I'll
be collaborating closely with the image analysis group to develop the suitable
analytical software.
This so far has not left me too busy for tea and talk. My office is right in front of
the CPIB corrall, I believe A15. Come by and say hello.
Finally, I have started a science blog "LabFab"
The idea here is to open a door into the course of experiments, sort of in real time.
Well, it cannot be exactly real time, but a far cry from the highly scripted narrative of
a scientific paper. Although I am construing this as part of 'outreach' efforts for the
masses, I suspect that scientists will be interested too. Have a look! Comments are
This Newsletter was edited entirely by Kevin Pyke, so any mistakes are Kevin’s fault. It is
available online on the Plant and Crop Sciences web page at
Contributions for the next issue by October 21st 2014 to be published October 22nd 2014.