Dr Jake Harris, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge
Plants synthesize information from a continuous stream of complex sensory inputs to coordinate decisions on how best to respond to current environmental conditions. However, plants must also plan for the long-term, and hedge their bets on what conditions might be like in the future, to help inform physiological and developmental decisions. For this to occur, plants must encode memories.
Memories allow plants to count, to anticipate seasonal changes, and to respond more readily to stresses if they have been previously challenged. However, as plants lack a central nervous system, how these memories are formed is something of a mystery.
Whether a gene is ‘on’ or ‘off’ is influenced by so called ‘epigenetic marks’, which are chemical modifications to the genome that affect its structure, but not the underlying DNA sequence. The presence of epigenetic marks in the genome is influenced by environmental signals, and once established, these marks can be passed between cell divisions, and even between generations.
Jake’s research group studies how epigenetics can form the basis of memory, allowing plants to respond more rapidly to stresses such as pathogen challenge. He will tell us all about how they are harnessing the revolution in genome editing tools to try to precisely implant epigenetic memories in plants.
He is working with Cambridge University Botanic Garden to explore the diversity of epigenetic architectures across the plant kingdom.
Science on Sundays
A programme of free, informal, monthly science talks bringing the latest discoveries in plant science, as well as research linked to the plant collection at CUBG to our visitors in a 30 minute nutshell.
We will be running these talks live from the Botanic Garden Classroom for those visiting the the Garden on the day.
Please check the website and social media for updates.
Suitable for adults and children aged 12+
Talks run monthly March to July