Research Group

Plant Productivity Group

The demands of a growing world population for food and fuel are putting greater pressure on the need for higher yielding crop varieties that do not rely on a high input and demand of chemicals or water.

We respond to this challenge by taking a whole organism approach to identify key genes and processes that determine productivity in plants in constantly changing environmental conditions.

Uniquely we have the capacity to place our research in a real world socio-economic context, ensuring we are dealing with issues of global importance. We are a group of academics supported by a lively team of research technicians, postdoctoral researchers and research students, who create a stimulating collaborative and dynamic research environment.

Funding and Facilities

Our group’s research focuses on understanding and improving plants processes that determine plant productivity and plant responses to changing environmental conditions. We have an extensive network of national and international collaborations through projects funded by the BBSRC, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, EU, Leverhulme Trust, Perry Foundation and industry.

We have considerable expertise in the investigation of the growth and physiology of plants under both benign and stressful conditions in the laboratory and the field. This is underpinned by a considerable and continual investment in our specialised research facilities. Consequently, we have state-of-the art equipment for our research, including bespoke instrumentation and software designed and built in-house.

Our facilities include a plant phenotyping platform that houses a novel dynamic lighting system, combined thermal and chlorophyll fluorescence as well as whole plant gas exchange chambers.

Working with business

We are united around understanding the physiological and genetic basis of crop yield. Collectively we have a great deal of knowledge and experience in Plant Science, which extends to understanding how technology fits into the development of more environmentally sustainable production systems.

We offer many ways for you to access our expertise (.pdf), including consultancy, collaborative and commissioned research and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.

These are some of the current and recently completed projects and programmes which are collaborative with and sponsored by industry:

  • Forestry research - Forestry Commission (Forest Research)
  • Crop improvement - Bayer Ltd
  • LED lighting technologies - TAS valley mushrooms
  • Technology development - ADC Ltd
  • Gene technology - Syngenta Ltd

Example case for SMEs

The EU funded project ABSTRESS is identifying genes that control responses to combined drought stress and Fusarium oxysporum infection in legumes. This involves working with our partner SMEs to fast track genes discovered in a model legume, Medicago truncatula, to field testing of mutated gene orthologs in non-GM peas and be candidates to enter EU-wide breeding programmes. Our partner SMEs are GenXPro (Germany), PGRO (UK), Arterra Bioscience (Italy), AgroVegetal (Spain), AgriTec (Czech Republic) and BTG (Italy).

Master of Science (MSD) in Biological Sciences

Our research group has several exciting opportunities for research projects, towards a Master of Science by Dissertation (MSD) in the School of Life Sciences.

These are one-year postgraduate degrees that typically start in October but other start times can be negotiated with the project supervisor(s) (overseas applicants should allow additional time for visa processing). These opportunities do not come with any funding. Further information on fees and funding is available here.

To start the process, email your CV to the supervisors directly or email the postgraduate administrator Ms Emma Revill (ecrix@essex.ac.uk) to suggest another project within the area of interest of one of our groups or members of staff.

Titles and supervisors

“Natural variation of heat shock transcription networks”, Dr Uli Bechtold, Dr Radu Zabet

“Uncoupling leaf- and plant-level water use traits in Arabidopsis”, Dr Uli Bechtold

“Improving photosynthesis by manipulating stomatal conductance” – Prof Tracy Lawson

“Coupling photosynthesis and stomatal behaviour using transgenics” – Prof Tracy Lawson, Prof Christine Raines

“Does electron transport rate influence induction of Calvin cycle enzymes?” – Prof Tracy Lawson, Prof Christine Raines

Contact us
Dr Dawn Farrar Research Manager