Dr Julian Hibberd of the Department of Plant Sciences works on the genetic basis of traits that underlie components of crop productivity. In the long term this may allow productivity to be improved. Currently his focus is on understanding how the efficient C4 photosynthetic pathway works. He is also interested in generating increased genetic variation in domesticated rice, and screening for increased tolerance to stresses.
C4 photosynthesis is associated with increased productivity compared to the more usual C3 photosynthesis, and, despite its complexity, is currently documented in at least 62 lineages of angiosperms. The team’s approach is interdisciplinary, including the use of molecular and physiological techniques through to bioinformatics. Species of Flaveria, a genus with both C3 and C4 species, are grown in the Botanic Garden in order for RNA samples to be isolated and subjected to deep sequencing to define changes in gene expression as C3 and C4 leaves mature.