Tuesday, November 23, 2010

HE Woodman Prize

PhD supervisors are invited to submit nominations for the HE Woodman Prize for the best PhD or MPhil thesis submitted to the University of Cambridge in 2010 that is relevant to the chemistry of foods. Nominations should include a copy of the thesis abstract, a list of publications based on the work described in the thesis and a statement - 400 words or less - describing the impact of the thesis work and the basis of its relevance to the chemistry of foods. The value of the prize will be around £300 or any other value thought appropriate that is equal to or less than the spendable income and capital of the fund. The Prize is awarded by the Professors of Botany and Genetics and nominations by supervisors should be sent to Ombretta Orsini (oo203) in the Department of Plant Sciences by midnight on 18 January 2011.

Friday, October 8, 2010

David Baulcombe among most important figures in British science

Professor Sir David Baulcombe has been named among most important figures in British science in a list by the Times newspaper.

The Cambridge University news article.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tom ap Rees Trust Fund: Invitation for Applications

The Department’s Tom ap Rees Fund was established in memory of Professor Tom ap Rees, former Head of Department and Professor of Botany. The income is used to make small grants to students in the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, both undergraduates and postgraduates, who are in need of financial assistance in connection with their studies.

Applications to the Fund are invited twice a year, in April and September (with urgent applications being considered at other times if funds are available) To apply, please write a supporting case stating the amount requested and forward to Ombretta Orsini (oo203@cam.ac.uk) by 8 October for circulation to the Fund Managers.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dr Julia Davies to be awarded University Pilkington Prize for excellence in teaching

On June 29th Dr Julia Davies will be awarded a University Pilkington prize for excellence in teaching.

The Pilkington Prizes were set up by the late Sir Alastair Pilkington, former Chairman of the Cambridge Foundation. The Prizes are supported by Cambridge University Press, and are awarded annually by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alison Richard.

Professor Howard Griffiths says:

“Julia joined the Department of Plant Sciences in January 1997 as a lecturer (Senior Lecturer in 2003) and has consistently delivered excellent teaching across a broad subject range. Her lectures in membrane biology, microbiology and plant biology are met enthusiastically by students. She has modernized curriculum content and outreach activities, set an excellent standard in pastoral care and rejuvenated plant sciences graduate education. If one were to describe Julia’s lecturing style, words utilized would include: ‘calm, authoritative, logical and well-organized’, with her delivery leavened by subtle humour and laced with compelling insights. Each year she receives tremendously complimentary feedback from students at IA, IB and Part II, and her care and interest in each student she teaches is clear for all to appreciate. She is an outstanding asset to the Department.”

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bicentenary Medal for plant scientist

Dr Beverley Glover has been awarded the Linnean Society Bicentenary Medal in recognition of the exceptional quality of her contributions to botany.

More information

In addition, from October 1st Dr Glover will be promoted to Reader.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Plant Sciences Exhibit at Royal Society Festival of Science and Arts: Meet the Algae: Diversity, Biology and Energy (25 June - 4 July)

The Department will be heavily involved with an exhibition located in the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre which takes place from Friday 25 June to Sunday 4 July 2010.

This is the official website.

This is the Plant Sciences Meet The Algae website.

The contact at Plant Sciences is Beatrix Schlarb-Ridley bgs21@cam.ac.uk.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Prof. Sir David Baulcombe elected to the Academy of Medical Sciences

Professor Sir David Baulcombe, Professor of Botany and Royal Society Research Professor, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge is one of forty new Fellows elected to the Academy of Medical Sciences in April 2010. There are now 983 Fellows of the Academy.

The Academy of Medical Sciences

Monday, April 26, 2010

A new type of signal molecule in plants discovered

Attila Molnar, Charles Melnyk and colleagues in the Baulcombe group have discovered a new type of signal molecule in plants. In a paper published online in Science (23/4/2010) they show that small RNA molecules, known as small interfering RNAs, can migrate long distances in plants and they can direct chemical modification of DNA in the recipient cells. This modification – DNA methylation – normally results in the silencing of gene expression that persists through cell divisions even if the mobile RNA is no longer present. The newly discovered signal could explain many mysterious phenomena in plant biology in which a local stimulus induces a long term and persistent effect in the recipient tissues.

"Small silencing RNAs in plants are mobile and they direct epigenetic modification in recipient cells"

Attila Molnar*, Charles W. Melnyk*, Andrew Bassett, Thomas J. Hardcastle, Ruth Dunn, David C. Baulcombe

The abstract and full text of the paper can be downloaded from

Image: Silencing of the GFP reporter gene in Arabidopsis roots by mobile small RNAs derived from GFP silenced shoots. Imaged using UV fluorescence, the green colour indicates non-silenced GFP fluorescing roots and red indicates silenced auto-fluorescencing tissue.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tributes paid to Richard Savage

From the Royston Weekly News 23rd April 2010:

Tributes have been paid to a Cambridge University librarian who died after being hit by a train.

Richard Savage, of Greville Road, off Mill Road, Cambridge, died at Royston station on Friday morning.

Read the full article.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Lewin-Fritsch Studentship Available (Algal Biology) in the Department! Application Deadline 30th April 2010

This three year fully funded studentship is administered by The Department of Plant Sciences, Downing College and the British Phycological Society. Applicants must select a project (from those listed below), that addresses algal biology:

1. Iron-sulphur cluster assembly and bio-hydrogen production in algae

Project Supervisor: Dr Janneke Balk
Project outline:
The "iron-only" hydrogenases are enzymes that use exclusively iron and sulphide to catalyse the production of hydrogen. As such, they provide a cheap alternative to platinum electrodes currently used for the industrial production of hydrogen gas. Our laboratory is studying the assembly of these natural catalysts, or Fe-S cofactors, in the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardti, a model organism for the production of bio-hydrogen. This project will focus on the role of alga-specific assembly factors that we have recently identified (Godman & Balk, Genetics 2008). Using a reverse genetics approach based on RNAi silencing (in collaboration with David Baulcombe's group) the importance of the candidate genes for hydrogen production will be assessed. In addition, the regulation of Fe-S cluster assembly during hydrogenase-inducing conditions (high light / low oxygen / low sulphur) will be investigated.

2. Ca2+-dependent signalling networks in Chlamydomonas
Project Supervisors: Drs Julia Davies and Alex Webb
Project outline:
Changes in cytosolic free Ca2+ ([Ca2+]cyt) play diverse signalling roles in eukaryote cells, from regulation of the cell cycle, the response to stress and in the maintenance of circadian rhythms. Ca2+-dependent signalling networks must therefore display specificity to coordinate these different cellular functions. Genome sequencing of the unicellular alga Chlamydomonas has indicated a surprising mix of plant- and animal-like Ca2+ transporters and receptors required for determining specificity in these Ca2+ signalling networks [1]. This alga therefore occupies an intriguing evolutionary position to inform us on the development of fundamental signalling processes in eukaryotes. The project will combine high resolution imaging of cytosolic Ca2+ in Chlamydomonas with a range of biochemical and molecular techniques. Candidate components of [Ca2+]cyt-dependent stress signalling pathways and the circadian clock [2] will be knocked down using RNAi to deduce their role. The project is a collaboration between the Cambridge Transport and Signalling Groups (Drs. Julia Davies and Alex Webb), Prof. Colin Brownlee (Marine Biological Association) and Dr. Glen Wheeler (Plymouth Marine Laboratory).

[1] TiPS 13: 506. [2] Science 318: 1789.

3. Iridescence In Algae: How & Why?
Supervisor: Dr Beverley Glover
Project outline:
Iridescence is the property of appearing different colours when viewed from different angles. It occurs when different wavelengths of light are reflected from a surface at different angles, and gives the vivid rainbow appearance to the feathers of peacocks and the wings of many butterflies and beetles. Iridescence in animals has been extensively investigated, and has a range of roles in intraspecific signalling. Iridescence is not isolated to the animal kingdom, but much less is known about it in photosynthetic organisms. Green and brown algae have been recorded as iridescent, but the phenomenon is most commonly found in red algae, where blue and green colours appear on the surface at certain stages of the lifecycle. The structural basis for this is unknown, and will be studied using a combination of microscopical and modelling approaches in the British species Chondria coerulescens and Drachiella spectabilis.

The function of algal iridescence is also unclear. Suggestions include a role in camouflage or a role in optimising photosynthesis by enhancing the absorption of useful wavelengths of light at the expense of increased reflection of other wavelengths. Optical analysis of the algae will be complemented by analysis of their photosynthetic capacity under different light regimes, to distinguish between these hypotheses.

4. Transcript analysis of the Coleochaete orbicularis algal genome.
Project Supervisor: Dr Jim Haseloff
Project outline:
Members of the genus Coleochaete are multicellular green algae, and exhibit some of the earliest and simplest features of multicellular plant growth. Haploid zoospores initiate the growth of discoid multicellular colonies. The colonies adhere to the substrate and grow as a cell monolayer. The circular morphology of the colonies is maintained by precisely coordinated sequences of anticlinal and periclinal divisions. Cultures are easy to maintain on agar plates and are ideal for microscopy. Coleochaete has been little studied as a developmental system, but shows unique promise for genetic studies. (i) High throughput sequencing approaches will be used to generate the first comprehensive description of expressed sequences in Coleochaete. (ii) A catalogue of predicted protein sequences will be generated and compared to that of higher plants and other algae. (iii) Predicted promoters will be isolated and used for gene expression studies.


Coordination of plant cell division and expansion in a simple morphogenetic system. Dupuy, L., Mackenzie, J. and Haseloff, J., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. (USA) 107:2711-6, 2010.

5. RNA Silencing in Chlamydomonas
Supervisor: Prof Sir David Baulcombe
Project outline:
RNA silencing is a recently discovered genetic and epigenetic mechanism in growth, development, responses to environmental stimuli and in resistance against viruses. Recently, through work with higher plants, the small RNA species associated with RNA silencing have also been implicated in genome interactions associated with hybrid incompatibility, hybrid vigour and with transgressive segregation in which offspring exhibit phenotypes that are outside the range of the parents.

The proposed project is to investigate these effects in hybrids of North American and Japanese isolates of Chlamydomonas. The patterns of gene expression will be assessed in zygotes and derivative hybrid lines in order to identify molecular phenotypes that deviate from the mid parental value. Genetic and molecular analysis will be carried out in order to characterise the underlying mechanisms.

The mysterious phenotypes of hybrids are one of the big mysteries of modern biology. The project will help solve this mystery by taking advantage of the short time scale of hybridisation in a unicellular alga as compared to multicellular organisms. It will generate information that is relevant to the understanding of various aspects of evolution including mechanisms associated with speciation. There could also be an applied aspect of the project as the information could be used in the development of improved strains for production of biofuels and other chemicals. The project will introduce techniques in molecular biology and there will be a substantial bioinformatic component associated with the analysis of expression profiling data.

The Lewin-Fritsch Studentship supports a research studentship in phycology (algal biology). All College and University Fees will be paid on behalf of the student, who will receive, in addition, a living allowance and a contribution towards to the cost of his or her research. The value of the allowance and research contribution is determined annually by the Electors by reference to other similar studentships, notably the Wellcome Studentships and the Gatsby Awards, The Studentship is linked to Downing College, where the student will become a Graduate Member. Only specific projects (those listed above) are eligible for consideration.

Eligibility Criteria:
Full funding is available for UK residents and EU citizens who have been resident in the UK for at least 3 years.
The minimum qualification for Ph.D. studies is a Class 2.1 Honours Bachelors Degree, or a Masters degree (or equivalent).

To apply:
You must complete an online ‘Graduate Admission and Scholarship Application Form’ (GRADSAF). In addition to this you must send your supporting documentation: Two academic references, CV, Full Academic Transcript & Research Proposal to the:
Graduate Student Administrator
Department of Plant Sciences
Downing Street

by the closing date, which is 30th April 2010

Informal enquiries can be directed to reception@plantsci.cam.ac.uk.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

PhD studentships for Oct 2010 in Systems Approaches to Biological Research

Studentships are available for October 2010 in systems biology projects offered by groups in the Genes to Organisms (G2O) training programme. This programme brings together the Departments of Zoology, Plant Sciences and Physiology, Development and Neuroscience (PDN). A core thread of the research and training is focused on systems biology of animals and plants. The following projects are available:

  • Mathematical modelling of the circadian Ca2+ signalling network (Dr. Alex Webb, Plant Sciences with Dr. Jorge Goncalves, Engineering).

  • How do cells regulate key cell cycle transitions (Dr Jonathon Pines; Zoology; Martin Howard UEA)

  • The influence of seasonal disturbance and climate change on crop disease (Dr. Nik Cunniffe, Prof Chris Gilligan; Plant Sciences)

  • The mammalian "methylome" (Dr Cath Green and Professor Chris Abell. Chemistry)

  • Dynamics of the Notch response (Prof Sarah Bray, PDN; Dr Steve Russell, Systems Biology Institute; Prof Simon Tavare, DAMTP).

  • Systems modelling of organ morphogenesis in mammals (Dr Paul Schofield PDN with Dr Bernard de Bono, EBI)

  • Modelling the morphogenesis of the early amniote embyo (Dr Octavian Voiculescu, PDN)

  • Regulatory network analysis (Prof Sir David Baulcombe, Plant Sciences)

  • Temporal control of neurogenesis (Prof Andrea Brand; Dr Gos Micklem; Cambridge Systems Biology Centre; Dr Lorenz Wernisch, MRC Biostatistics Unit)

  • Quantitative gastrulation: understanding how morphogenetic movements are coupled in embryonic development (Dr Benedicte Sanson, PDN; Dr Richard Adams, PDN; Dr Emmanuel Farge, Physics Department, Curie Institute, Paris).

  • Synthetic patterns in plant development. (Dr. Jim Haseloff, Plant Sciences http://www.plantsci.cam.ac.uk/Haseloff/; http://www.synbio.org.uk)

  • Energy efficiency of information coding in Drosophila photoreceptors (Dr Jeremy Niven, Zoology)

Further information at http://www.pdn.cam.ac.uk/g2o/

To apply: Please send application including c.v.with full details of academic record and research experience to Aileen Briggs (amb1014@cam.ac.uk). Arrange for two references to be sent to the same address by the closing date.

Application deadline extended: April 23rd 2010

Note: Full funding is available for UK and other EU students who meet the BBSRC eligibility criteria which include UK residency.

Friday, February 5, 2010

David Baulcombe wins two Israeli awards

Sir David has received the $100,000 Wolf Prize for agriculture for his research into how plants defend themselves from viral attacks using “gene silencing" and the $75,000 Harvey Prize for advancements in science and technology.

Read the article in The Jewish Cronicle

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sainsbury Laboratory update

Report of the General Board on the establishment of a Sainsbury Laboratory and three Professorships within the Laboratory:

Read the report.