Prof Brendan Davies


Plant Development Laboratory

Unlike animals, plants develop continuously in response to their environment. This developmental plasticity comes about because plant organs are constantly produced from a pool of undifferentiated stem cells at the tip of the shoot. Plants need to accomplish at least three things to convert undifferentiated cells in this pool into lateral organs such as leaves and petals. Firstly the pool of stem cells needs to be able to maintain itself, so that the rate of generation of new stem cells is equal to the rate of differentiation of the old cells. Secondly the position of the newly formed organ needs to be defined and its boundaries established. Finally the newly developing organ needs to adopt a specific tissue and cell identity - the cells need to know whether they are to become hairs or stomata, petals or ovules. We are interested in how a limited set of genes is able to direct these processes.

Although we mainly use the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, we use a range of other species to make appropriate comparisons. For example, comparisons between development in Arabidopsis and Antirrhinum led us to study a family of co-repressors that controls multiple plant processes and comparisons between Arabidopsis and moss showed us that at least in one specific aspect of gene regulation Arabidopsis is not a typical plant. We also work with some crop species to translate our fundamental research into impact.

Through our work on understanding flower development and meristem function we developed an interest in transcription factors within gene regulatory networks as well as other forms of gene regulation such as repression and mRNA stability. We welcome expressions of interest from prospective PhD students and postdoctoral fellows.

Individual projects are currently underway in the following broad areas:

•           Understanding flower development - the master regulators and their downstream targets.

•           The mechanism of transcriptional repression and its role in plant development and evolution.

•           Nonsense-mediated mRNA decay, how it works, what it does and how we can use it.

Antirrhinum and Arabidopsis Antirrhinum and Arabidopsis
These are the two model plants used in our research. They look very different, but we find that similar processes are controlled by similar genes in different plants. Part of our interest is to understand the differences between similar genes that result in such diversity of form.
Making a mushroom out of a plant Making a mushroom out of a plant. It might not look like it, but this is a snapdragon seedling. In place of leaves this plant produces little cups that make it look like a clump of mushrooms. This developmental problem results from a defect in a single snapdragon gene. By understanding what the gene is, what it does and why the plant looks so strange, we learn more about normal development.
 What should I do now? In a scanning electron micrograph of the growing tip of a snapdragon shoot the new lateral organs can be seen forming on the flanks of the meristem. Somehow these developing organs, marked by question marks, must learn their developmental fate. Determination of organ identity and cell fate is one of our current research interests.