A Systematic Approach to Understanding Plant Plasticity

Supervisors: Karen Halliday, Ramon Grima

Project description:

Plants are inherently plastic organisms. Their general body plan is genetically encoded, but plant architecture can be modified to adjust to the environment that surrounds it. In this sense, external cues, such as light, have a profound effect on the way a plant grows and develops, ultimately affecting a plant’s fitness, disease resistance and productivity1. An important feature of this process is the cooperation between light signalling and the plant’s internal carbon supply to ensure resources are coupled to growth and metabolic demand. Understanding these key drivers of growth plasticity is very relevant for crop research. For instance, dense field planting often occludes light, which can limit photosynthesis and promote low-yield growth. The project also has broader relevance. It is geared to understanding this fundamental plastic property that underlies the extraordinary evolutionary success of plants on earth.

This project will build on new data form the Halliday lab that has identified a critical link that couples photoreceptor signalling and central carbon sensing to growth plasticity2. The aim will be to: i) elucidate the molecular connecting mechanism, ii) use our 3D imaging platform to quantify dynamic growth in photoreceptor / carbon sensing mutants, iii) quantify photosynthesis and carbon-state markers, iv) conduct RNAseq and bioinformatics analysis that characterises the dynamical transciptome response through time, v) work with theoretical scientists to model and predict the impacts of changing light and resource availability on growth. Outcomes of this project will include the development of strategies to improve plant growth and productivity in vegetation-rich field crop environments that exclude light.


1. Ballaré CL, Pierik R. The shade-avoidance syndrome: multiple signals and ecological consequences. Plant Cell Environ. 2017 Review. PMID:  28102548

2. Yang D, Seaton DD, Krahmer J, Halliday KJ. Photoreceptor effects on plant biomass, resource allocation, and metabolic state. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 5;113(27):7667-72. PMID:    27330114