Monday, November 30, 2009

Darwin's plants from the Beagle voyage

Darwin's Beagle Plants website ( was launched on Tuesday 24 November, the 150th Anniversary of the publication of "On the Origin of Species"? It was produced by the Herbarium and contains lots of information on the plants collected by Darwin. It is a major achievement by the Herbarium, and the Department.

Friday, November 27, 2009

800th anniversary lunch for staff with Her Majesty the Queen

A formal lunch was held at King's College on Thursday 19 November to celebrate long service to the University, attended by Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. The 100 longest-serving University employees were invited to attend with their partners.

Three members of Plant Sciences attended; Glynn Jones, who joined the Department as a Scientific Assistant in 1967; John Green, who joined as a Scientific Assistant in 1968; and Sue Green, who was appointed as a Scientific Assistant in 1971. Maggie Goddard also attended the lunch with her husband Barrie, who joined Plant Sciences in 1963 as a Junior
Technician, before moving to the Department of Chemical Engineering in 2000.

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the occasion. The Greens were slightly shocked to discover from the seating plan that they were sitting on the top table with the Queen, as the only married couple in the University both with long service. All those attending were given a commemorative book, marking the University's 800th anniversary.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

IGEM team win prize

On 2nd November the Cambridge team was awarded the Grand Prize at the iGEM2009 Synthetic Biology competition finals at MIT ( This was against stiff competition from over 100 teams in top international institutions. The students (Vivian Mullin, Alan Walbridge, Shuna Gould, Siming Ma, Mike Davidson, Megan Stanley and Crispian Wilson), provided a superb description of their work engineering DNA devices for transcriptional tuning and pigment production in environmental biosensors. As well as winning the overall prize for best project, the Cambridge team was awarded a gold medal, and trophy for the best project in the Environment Track.

View the photo album.
Article in Varsity Newsletter.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Natural Fibres in Construction: Innovative Applications and Processes

Free Seminar: 17 November 2009, Hughes Hall, Cambridge, 2:00pm- 5.30pm

Natural fibres have been utilised in construction for millennia, they have particular advantages for a low carbon future. The event, with speakers from academia and industry will focus on the technical aspects of utilising natural fibres in a modern context and provide a forum for the latest research on new natural composites. The Renewable House at the Buildings Research Establishment, (delivered by the NNFCC and funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change DECC), and the Suffolk Housing Society development at Haverhill, are practical examples of the application of natural fibres. However these natural fibres have yet to enter mainstream application. Why is this? What are the opportunities and challenges facing natural fibres in construction?

Download the details.

£2 billion needed for science ’Grand Challenge’ to help feed the world

Professor Sir David Baulcombe has chaired a report for the Royal Society which says that the UK should lead international research efforts if we are to achieve the massive increase in food crop production (at least 50 percent) that will be required by 2050 to meet global food demands without damaging the environment.

Read the Report and the Press Release.

In the news:
The Telegraph
The Times Online
The Guardian
The Independent
Radio 4

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Proposal for Regius Professorship of Botany

There will be a discussion in the Senate-House, on Tuesday, 27 October 2009 to discuss the University's proposal to seek the assent of Her Majesty The Queen that the Professorship of Botany be re-titled the Regius Professorship of Botany, to commemorate the forthcoming visit by Her Majesty to the University on 19 November 2009 and the University's 800th anniversary year.

The University currently has six Regius Professorships: of Civil Law, Divinity, Greek, Hebrew, and Physic, all established in 1540; and of Modern History, established in 1724. Regius Professorships also exist at the Universities of Oxford, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow, St Andrews, and Trinity College Dublin.

The Professorship of Botany, established in 1724, is one of the University's oldest unnamed Professorships in a fundamental scientific discipline. Although it was not established as a Regius Professorship, its early royal connections are clear: the third Professor, Thomas Martyn, received a patent from His Majesty King George III, and was styled by the Crown as 'our Public Professor or Reader of Botany'. His successor John Henslow, Professor of Botany, 1824-61, held the office of King's Reader by patent from the Crown while his appointment to the Professorship was under consideration.

As well as being an enduring memorial to Her Majesty's visit to the University, the Council and the General Board consider that renaming the Professorship would be particularly timely, given the University's leading role in the current international celebrations to mark the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin, whose scientific mentor was Professor Henslow. The historical context of Darwin's scientific legacy is mirrored by the importance of the modern field of plant sciences in areas as diverse as food security, biodiversity, conservation, and medicine. Within the University a new Laboratory for fundamental research in plant sciences, generously funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation is currently under construction.

The current holder of the Professorship, Professor Sir David Baulcombe, FRS, has been consulted about the proposal which also has the support of the Head of the School of the Biological Sciences.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Beverley Glover wins book award

The British Ecological Society in partnership with the Marsh Christian Trust announced yesterday that the 2009 Marsh Ecology Book of the Year award will be presented to Dr Beverley Glover of the University of Cambridge's Department of Plant Sciences.

This award - presented for the best written work on ecology - is for Dr Glover's book "Understanding Flowers and Flowering". Described by the judges as "ambitious and lucid", the book covers the subject from ecological and evolutionary perspectives, and in relation to recent molecular genetic work on floral initiation and development, and plant physiological processes.

Commenting on the award, Dr Glover said: "I am really delighted to receive the award. Flowers are such fascinating structures, and I hope that my book will encourage interest in the intricate ways that they work."

"I wanted the book to bring together different areas of plant biology so that students and researchers could see how flowers really work. It was a real challenge to pull such a lot of material together, and you're always aware that you're not going into as much detail in each area as the true specialists would like. So it's a great pleasure to receive an award like this, and to hear that people are finding the book a useful tool to help integrate the field."

Announcing the winner of this year's award, Professor Mike Begon, chair of the British Ecological Society grants committee, said: "This book is a very brave - and really the first - attempt to synthesise a huge area of research and present it in digestible form. 'Understanding Flowers and Flowering' Pollination biology, as with all scientific disciplines, is in danger of becoming overly fragmented, with students and researchers in different sub-disciplines unable to communicate effectively or even unaware of the work that is going on outside of their own domains. It is ambitious, lucid, well written books such as this which will hold disciplines together and help to encourage dialogue between disparate biological traditions."

The Marsh Ecology Book of the Year Award will be presented at the BES AGM on Wednesday 9 September 2009 at 17:00. The AGM is taking place at the University of Hertfordshire.

Understanding Flowers and Flowering by Beverley Glover is published by Oxford University Press, ISBN-10: 0198565968.

The Marsh Book of the Year Award

The British Ecological Society

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Development of Algal Products and Processes

Opportunities and challenges in high value applications, bioremediation and bioenergy

Thursday 15th Oct 2009
Zicer Conference and Exhibition Room, University of East Anglia, Norwich

This meeting is jointly organised by Renewables East, the renewable energy agency for the East of England, and the InCrops Enterprise Hub, a new initiative to promote low carbon solutions based on plant materials from non-food crops.

This event will highlight opportunities and challenges for the use of algae in high value applications, bioremediation and bioenergy, with a special emphasis on current and upcoming funding opportunities. It will bring together industry and academia from renewables sectors to accelerate innovation and technology transfer.

Speakers include:

  • Dr Gill Malin, University of East Anglia
    Algal processes and products: advantages and challenges

  • Prof Richard Geider, University of Essex
    Biological constraints on algal production

  • Prof Alison Smith, University of Cambridge
    Vitamins, pigments and energy from algae
  • Dr Thomas Mock, University of East Anglia
    Genomic screening and genetic engineering of diatoms for different biotechnological applications

  • Prof Graham Hillier, Centre for Process Innovation
    The role of algae in planning sustainable cities

  • Dr Vitor Vieira, Necton / Algafuel
    Production of algae for high value purposes - lessons for bioenergy production

Registration opens at 09.30 am; presentations start at 10.30 am. A Guided Tour of Algal Labs will be available during the lunch break for delegates who register in advance. The presentations finish at 4.00 pm, followed by networking, and the event closes at 5.00 pm.

A registration fee applies to this event: £50. A discounted fee is available for academic and not-for-profit organisations (£30). Please email to access the discount.

To register please visit

If you have any questions, please contact either Bianca Forte (; 07939 053 025) or Beatrix Schlarb-Ridley (; 07778 983 612).

Download the flier.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

First International Lavender Conference 6-11 September 2009

6th - 11th September 2009

We are delighted to announce the First International Lavender Conference to be hosted by Cambridge University Botanic Garden.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Fibre Crops open day: 4 September 2009

This Open Day with talks will focus on the growing and processing of fibre crops in the East of England. Delegates will also visit the experimental trials being conducted by InCrops at Easton College, Norwich.

Businesses interested in developing further products and technologies from these crops will have a unique chance to network and explore future opportunities. The event will be of interest to delegates in a range of sectors from growing, production and manufacturing through to retail, distribution and marketing.


Michael Carus, European Industrial Hemp Association
Natural Fibres Reinforced Plastics for bio-based products: Markets and Trends

Dr Mike Lawrence, BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials
Developing hemp-lime low-carbon construction for mainstream uptake

Download more information as a pdf.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Bioplastics & Biopolymers Seminar: 16 July

Thursday 16th July 2009
3.00pm - 6.30pm
Hughes Hall College, Pavilion Room, Cambridge CB1 2EW

To register, please contact Dr Beatrix Schlarb Ridley, InCrops Business Innovation Manager on or telephone 01223 333 956 / 07778983612


Download the poster.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Monitoring Long-term Changes in British Woodlands

Forest Ecology Group of the British Ecological Society
Friday 2nd October 2009
Department of Plant Sciences, Cambridge University

Our aim is to discuss the following questions:

What scientific issues are being addressed by analysis of long-term datasets collected in British woodlands?
What scientific issues are being addressed by analysis of long-term datasets collected in British woodlands?
What other analyses could / should be conducted?
What long-term monitoring datasets are available, and in what form are these datasets?
What efforts are under way to remeasure permanently marked plots / lines?
Are there to plans to collect new datasets?
What's going on in the rest of the EU?
How might we secure funding for further monitoring and analyses?

If you would like to contribute a presentation that addresses any of these questions, please email us with a brief description of your interests or fill out the online form

All enquiries to Helen Scott - - please.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

David Baulcombe receives award

Professor David Baulcombe has been awarded Knights Bachelor for services to plant sciences in the Queen's Birthday Honours list

Cambridge University news page

Friday, June 5, 2009

Maternal influence through small RNA

Just as the universe is filled with mysterious and unexplained matter, so living cells are filled with small RNAs – the “dark matter” of genetics. Plants cells contain hundreds of thousands of these tiny molecules but only for a few of them is there a known function. Cambridge University scientists recently discovered a surprising characteristic of small RNAs in plants. In an article published online today in the journal Nature, researchers led by Professor David Baulcombe describe maternal-specific expression of the most abundant class of small RNAs in developing seeds. Although the small RNAs are produced from cells containing genes from both parents, only the maternal genes are active. Scientists have known for decades that organisms have a molecular memory of which genes they have inherited from each parent and this “imprint” is of critical importance in a number of human diseases. However, very little is known about the nature of imprinting or why such a mechanism would evolve. Dr. Rebecca Mosher, a senior researcher in the group, suggests that imprinted expression of small RNAs indicates large-scale genetic control by the mother – perhaps an evolutionary example of over-parenting.

Read the publication in Nature

A developing seed contains two cell types with maternal DNA – the endosperm (green area) and the embryo (brown). The maternal (purple edge) and paternal (brown) genomes are both active but only the maternal genomes generate small RNA (purple line).

Monday, June 1, 2009

A new face to facilitate translational research

An introduction to Bea, the new InCrops Business and Innovation Officer

My name is Beatrix Schlarb-Ridley (Bea for short), and I have this month taken up the post of InCrops Business and Innovation Officer, based partly here in Plant Sciences, partly at UEA. I am employed 80% FTE by the InCrops Enterprise Hub, of which Plant Sciences are a partner. The InCrops Project has two key aims:

  1. to stimulate the commercialisation of new biorenewable and low carbon products from alternative and non food crop feedstocks

  2. to lever out the East of England's world class research capability in plant and crop science

My aim is to interact both with industry eg through CPPS, and with academic research in the Department, to achieve this.

I also hold a Business Fellowship with the School of Biological Sciences and London Technology Network (10% FTE), which has the much broader remit of facilitating translational research in any sector.

Finally, I will take up some other responsibilities in the Department which are currently still being worked out.

In whichever capacity – I look forward very much to interacting with you!

Best wishes,

Friday, May 29, 2009

Plant Sciences raises £444 for MacMillan Cancer Support

MacMillan Cancer Support – Fundraiser 2009 – Crafts & Coffee morning

This year an event was held on Friday 22nd May which not only satisfied the stomach, (yes, cakes again!!), but it enabled us to appreciate the talents of some of our fellow workers, who display their wares (individually made cards, jewellery, pictures etc.)

Thanks to all who supported the Coffee and Craft morning which raised £444 for MacMillan Cancer Support. Particular thanks should go to the cake/preserve makers for their carborific delights - and Sue Green and Barbara Landamore for spending hours of their free time making cards, and donating ALL the proceeds of their sales to the fund.

I'm sure everyone that went to the Teaching Lab. were impressed by the fantastic artwork/craftwork produced, not only by Sue and Barbara, but also the ladies from Physiology and Anatomy. All of the stands looked so inviting and they all complemented each other so well.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Personnel Announcements

The Department is pleased to announce the promotion of Dr Jim Haseloff to Reader from 1 October 2009.

Dr Nik Cunniffe is re-appointed as a Temporary lecturer for 4 years from 1 October 2009.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A new course on stream environment for 8-10 year olds

Stream Seekers (a Cam Valley Forum Activity)
Enjoy watching water flowing by?
Wondered where it starts and stops?
Why is it clean or dirty?
Why one stream differs from another?
Why do different plants live there, or here?
Where are streams?

Four, two hour courses, each for five to eight children running in June, July, August and September.

Leader: Dr S.M. Haslam, international expert on rivers and long-time Brownie Guide.

Address: Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EA. Tel: 01223 356873

Join Streamseekers! Helper(s) wanted, preferably to work with the course, but someone enjoying reading under a shady tree also welcome!

Getting a grip: ‘Velcro’-like structure helps bees stick to flowers

A paper by Heather M. Whitney, Lars Chittka, Toby J.A. Bruce and Beverley J. Glover in Current Biology shows that bumblebees can recognise the texture of petal surfaces by touch alone. More importantly, they choose to land on petals with conical cells that make it easier to grip, rather than on flat, smooth surfaces.

Read the press release at University of Cambridge, or the article at Current Biology.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rooted in history

Plant Sciences annual contribution to Cambridge University's Science Festival:

Rooted in history
14 March 10:00 - 16:00

Become a plant hunter and journey into the world of plants. Discover exciting plant species and look inside to discover extraordinary details. A hands on event for all ages. No need to book, just turn up at the marquee in front of the Department of Plant Sciences.
Read more at Cambridge News Online.

There are many more events at the Science Festival.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Fully-funded PhD position in Stress Signalling

Applications are being accepted for a PhD position in Dr Alex Webb's laboratory investigating plant stress signalling. The PhD position is funded in full by a BBSRC-Industrial Case award to Alex Webb. The successful candidate will receive training both in Dr Webb's laboratory at Cambridge and also with our industrial partner in Belgium. This is an exciting opportunity to perform fundamental research with potential real-world applications and receive world-class training in both an academic and industrial environment. Applicants should in the first instance contact directly Dr Alex Webb (
The post is funded for 4 years. UK Citizens are elgible for funding for fees and living expenses. EU citizens are elegible for fee-sonly funding. Funding is not availible for non-European Union Citizens.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Floral Iridescence, Produced by Diffractive Optics, Acts As a Cue for Animal Pollinators

Heather Whitney and Beverley Glover have been published in Science:

News report in The Daily Telegraph.

News report in The University of Cambridge.