Lessons on water use from natural populations for improving crop sustainability

  • Thu 23 Feb 23

    13:00 - 14:00

  • Colchester Campus

    STEM 3.1

  • Event speaker

    John Ferguson

  • Event type

    Lectures, talks and seminars

  • Event organiser

    Life Sciences, School of

  • Contact details

    Dr Amanda Cavanagh

The availability of water is the most fundamental limitation to net primary productivity. This is reflected by the plethora of adaptive mechanisms that plants have evolved to conserve water and balance water use with carbon fixation via photosynthesis. In this seminar, John Ferguson will highlight two case studies from my work that provide evidence to demonstrate how physiological variation in water use characteristics are critical for defining adaption in natural populations.

Firstly, John will show, at the level of the gene, how water use in Arabidopsis thaliana is a target of selection to confer persistence in warm environments. Secondly, he will highlight how physical constraints on leaf-level gas exchange are important for allowing wild-relatives of modern-day barley to survive in desert-like environments in the fertile crescent.

Through the key findings of these cases studies, John hopes to persuade you that the microscopic pores (stomata) that exists on the surface of the leaf are critical to defining adaptation and are thus valuable targets for crop improvement. Finally, he will demonstrate the capacity to translate this knowledge in to efforts to improve the water use efficiency of sorghum as an emerging bioenergy crop.


John received his undergraduate and Masters degrees from the University of East Anglia. He then did a PhD at the University of Essex with Ulrike Bechtold, where he studied the genetic basis of water use efficiency in Arabidopsis thaliana. In 2016, he moved to the University of Illinois as visiting scholar with Andrew Leakey to work on projects concerned with reducing water use in bioenergy sorghum. 

Since moving back to the UK in 2019, John has worked at the University of Nottingham and the University of Cambridge as a postdoctoral researcher, where he has been involved in the development and employment of high-throughput phenotyping approaches to screen natural variation in photo-physiological traits in key crop species including rice and maize.

In 2022, John returned to Essex to start a Lectureship where he is further developing his interests in elucidating and exploiting the mechanistic basis of variation in photosynthesis to enhance climatic resilience in crops.

How to attend

This seminar is being held in person in STEM 3.1 (STEM Centre on Square 1, Colchester campus). You can also watch via Zoom (meeting ID: 916 2270 2239)

If you have any queries about this seminar please email Dr Amanda Cavanagh (a.cavanagh@essex.ac.uk).

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