Academic Staff

Professor Tracy Lawson Director of Plant Phenomics Research Facility, School Radiation Supervisor

Position in departmentDirector of Impact, Research Group Convenor (Plant Productivity)
Staff positionProfessor in Plant Physiology
Telephone01206 873327

2019- present  University of Essex, Colchester, UK
Professor - Plant Physiology

2015- 2016 University of Essex, Colchester, UK
Reader -Plant and Algae Physiology

2015- 2015 University of Essex, Colchester, UK
Senior Lecturer -Plant and Algae Physiology

2014- 2015 University of Essex, Colchester, UK
Senior Research Fellow -Plant and Algae Physiology

2009- 2014 University of Essex, Colchester, UK
Research Fellow -Plant and Algae Physiology

2007- 2009 University of Essex, Colchester, UK
Permanent Senior Research Officer -Plant and Algae Physiology

2002-2003 Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
Visiting Research Fellow: Developing transgenic tobacco with altered guard cell metabolism

1999-2007 University of Essex, Colchester, UK
Senior Research Officer: Evaluating contributions of guard and mesophyll cell photosynthesis in the regulation of stomatal movements

1998-1999 University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK
Postdoctoral Research Associate: Investigating the effects of changing climate and potential impacts on potato yield and quality (CHIP)

1997-1998 University of Dundee, Scotland, UK
Postdoctoral Research Assistant: Investigating soil microbial activity associated with buried archaeological material and the interactions between them

1993-1997 University of Dundee, Scotland, UK
PhD: Heterogeneity in Stomatal characters

1989-1993 Liverpool, John Moore's University, Liverpool, UK
BSc(Hons.) Applied Biology

Current research

Research Details: Stomatal physiology - Climate change and increasing global population is intensifying the need to find suitable crop plants for sustainable food and fuel production for future generations. Drought conditions and reduced water availability severely impact plant productivity and are considered a global threat to world food security. Stomata and their function therefore play a central role in determining the amount of carbon gained per unit water lost, known as plant “water use efficiency” and consequently have significant implications for crop yields, as well as global hydrological and carbon cycles. Stomata must ensure an appropriate balance between CO2 demands for photosynthesis and water loss through transpiration by correlating stomatal conductance with mesophyll photosynthetic rates. The underlying mechanisms and signals that promote this relationship are currently unknown. Stomata and photosynthesis respond to a number of environmental cues, however responses are not synchronized, with stomatal adjustments generally an order of magnitude slower than mesophyll responses. The resulting disconnection between stomatal conductance and photosynthetic rate means that under natural fluctuating environmental condition water use efficiency is most likely far from optimal. I am therefore interested in stomatal control of CO2 assimilation and the relation between mesophyll photosynthesis and stomatal behaviour and the signalling pathways that link these two fundamental processes. I also research the role of guard cell chloroplasts in stomatal function and how guard cell photosynthesis may provide a functional link between mesophyll photosynthesis and guard cell aperture.
Cyanobacterial physiology - Oceans play a major role in the global carbon cycle, with about 50% of the Earth’s photosynthesis each year occurring in aquatic marine environments, representing a major sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). Primary productivity in many areas of the world’s oceans is limited by nitrogen and other nutrients such as phosphorous (P). Thus N2 fixing cyanobacteria including the dominant filamentous Trichodesmium are important in oligotrophic waters where they contribute the N that supports up to 50% of export production (Tyrrell et al., 2003; Capone et al., 2005). N2 fixation is an energy requiring process catalyzed by the enzyme nitrogenase, which is irreversibly damaged by molecular oxygen. Therefore, N2 fixing cyanobacteria must prevent nitrogenase from being damaged by molecular oxygen produced as a by-product of photosynthesis. Most diazotrophic cyanobacteria achieve this by separating photosynthesis and N2 fixation either spatially or temporally. Spatial separation is accomplished by conducting N2 fixation in specialized cells called heterocysts whilst temporal segregation relies on the use of respiratory energy to fix N2 at night. In contrast to these two strategies, the non-heterocyst cyanobacterium Trichodesmium executes both photosynthesis and N2 fixation during the light period without morphological differentiation of specialized cells. I am currently investigating the mechansims that allow photosynthesis and N2 fixation to occur simultaneously. I am also investigating the influence of elevated CO2 and nutrient limitation on photosynthetic processes and N2 fixation in two key cyanobacteria Trichodesmium and Crocosphaera.
Current Group:
Dr Silvere Vialet-Chabrand. PDRA. Stomatal-based systems analysis of water use efficiency. (BBSRC Standard Grant); in collaboration with M. Blatt (Glassgow) & H.Griffiths (Cambridge). 2014-2017.
Dr Michele Faralli: PDRA. PHOTOWHEAT. (BBRSC IPA grant with NIAB and Bayer Ltd). 2017-2020.
Mr Jack Matthews - PHD BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES Scaling up dynamic responses of stomata to assess impacts on tree canopy carbon gain and water use efficiency.(NERC Env East DTP studentship). .
Miss Kucheli Batta - PHD BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES. The role of guard cell chloroplasts in co-ordinating stomatal and mesophyll responses.
Mr Ifeanyi Oyemike - MPHD CELL AND MOLECULAR BIOLOGY. Manipulating Guard cell anatomy and physiology using biotechnological approaches to understanding impact on crop performance.
Mr Yazen Al-Salman - MSD ENVIRONMENTAL BIOLOGY:  Atmosphere-Biosphere co-evolution across geological time: The relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and plant hydraulic capacity.
Mr James Stevens - PHD BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES Understanding water-use variation in elite barley varieties. (Funded by The Perry Foundation & School of Biological Sciences, University of Essex).
Mr John Stamford - PhD Biological Sciences. Using spectral signatures as a toolbox for determining crop health status. (BBSRC Industrial Case Studentship, with industrial partners Environment Systems Ltd.).
Mr Matthew Keys - PHD MARINE BIOLOGY.  Effect of future CO2, temperature and nutrient regimes on primary production in the Western English Channel.
Co-supervised Research students:
Miss Leila Tavallali - PHD MARINE BIOLOGY
Mr William Passfield - PHD MARINE BIOLOGY
Past students:
Dr Laura Bretherton - PHD MARINE BIOLOGY.  Effect of future CO2, temperature and nutrient regimes on primary production in the Western English Channel.
Dr Lorna McAusland - The influence of stomata on intrinsic water-use efficiency
Dr Wael Obaid - The influence of nanoparticals on plant performance (Co-I with Colbeck)
Dr Narin Chansawang -  The effects of growth conditions on the biochemical composition of marine microalgae (Co-I with Geider)
Dr Stuart Fisk -  The effect of increased plastid transketoloase activity on thiamine metabolism in transgenic tobacco (Co- I with Raines)
Current funding:
BBSRC (PI Lawson, Co-I Raines, Bechtold  in collaboration with NIAB) PHOTOWHEAT: Exploiting variation in stomatal dynamics and ear photosynthesis to optimise wheat productivity  £350K.
BBSRC (PI Lawson, with Imperial lead) Role of protein phosphorylation in maintencance of photsystem two activity  £65K.
BBSRC IWYP (PI Lawson, Co-I Raines, with Nottingham lead) Wider and faster: high throughput phenotypic exploration of novel genetic variation for breeding high biomass and yield in wheat  £276K.
BBSRC IWYP (PI Raines, Co-I Lawson) Realising increased photosynthetic efficiency to increase wheat yeild £370K.
BBSRC (PI Lawson,  with Glassgow lead) Stomatal-based systems analysis of water use efficiency  £263K.
Industrial Funding (PI Lawson) Screenign natural variation in stomatal responsiveness for increased transpiration and/pr CO2 assimilation £40K
BBSRC Case award(PI Lawson with industrial partners Environment Systems) Using spectral signatures as a toolbox for determining crop health status. ca £90K
Perry Foundation (PI Lawson, Co-I Jones, PhD student Stevens) Understanding water-use variation in Elite barely varieties. £30K
Previously funded project:
Ocean Acidification impacts on sea-surface biology, biogeochemistry and climate (NERC consortium PhD studentship); Co-Investigator Feb 2011-Jan 2014: PhD student - L. Bretherton ca £100K
Environmental influences on isoprene consumption in a temporate forest ecosystem. (NERC) Co-Investigator; Lead Mcgeneity ca £210K
Manipulation of photosynthetic carbon metabolism in wheat to improve yield  (BBSRC) (Co-Investigator, Lead Raines) £315K
Metabolic engineering to enhance photosynthesis based on empirical data and in silico moedlling. (BBSRC) (Co-Investigator, Lead Raines) £440K
Integrated approach to studying effects of combined biotic and abiotic stress in crop plants  (EU) (Co-Investigator, Lead Mullineaux) Euro 386K
Environmental meta-genomics and biotechnology of desert macroflora, microflora and fauna(KAU ) (Co-Investigator, Lead Mullineaux) £250K
A community metabolism approach to examine the environmental regulation of coral growth (NERC standard grant); Oct 2009-Sep 2012: Joint PI  PDRA - Dr D. Laing. £354K
Effect of light, CO2 and nutrient limitation on photosynthesis in marine diazotrophic cyanobacteria. (NERC standard grant). March 2008- August 2011. PDRA - Dr. M. Fryer.  £408K
Establishing the mechanism(s) that enable stomata to respond to changing environmental cues, facilitating enhanced water use efficiency. (NERC quota studentship to Department of Biological Sciences). PhD student L. McAusland.

Research interests
  • Plant ecophysiology
  • Electron transport and photosynthesis
  • Stomatal physiology, control of gas exchange and carbon metabolism
  • Plant growth and water use efficiency
  • Effect of climate change on plant ecophysiology
  • Interaction between plants and their microclimate
  • Genetic manipulation of guard cell metabolism
  • Chlorophyll fluorescence imaging
  • Thermal imaging
  • Algal/cyanobacterial physiology 
  • Photosynthesis and Nitrogen fixation
  • Ocean acidification, including tecniques to measure carbonate chemistry
  • Chlorophyll fluorescence

Teaching responsibilities

Contribute to teaching the following modules:

BS234 Plant molecular physiology and genetics 

BS111 Plant Biology

BS323 Biotechnology

BS707 Msc Tropical Marine Biology

BS706 Msc Tropical Marine Biology

PublicationsLink to publications for Tracy Lawson
Additional information

Lab no: 6.23

Lab ext: 3726

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