Dr Siobhan Braybrook of the Sainsbury Laboratory is interested in how the growth of a shape occurs. This is a complex process requiring specific gene products, signaling, mechanical alterations, and coordination of cell growth. Her team addresses this fundamental process in biology using a multidisciplinary approach including: plant physiology, biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, materials science, and physics. For a plant cell, the cell wall is the main structural element, controlling shape and growth of the cell and therefore tissue as a whole. Recent work in plants has correlated key aspects of organ growth and shape generation with mechanical properties of tissues and cell walls.
In a recent project the team tested if organ growth was associated, as in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, with changes in cell wall chemistry in all plants. For this purpose meristems of 3 different species were fixed and analysed for their local change in chemistry (using immunostaining). The first set of results suggests that indeed it is the same change in chemistry that controls organ growth in all the plants tested (ginkgo, pine, oak).