Plasticity and Robustness: cellular understanding of plant growth and defence

Awarded: July 2020

GW4 community leads
University of Bath: Kit Yates 
University of Bristol: Alan Champneys
Cardiff University: Veronica Grieneisen (PI)
University of Exeter: Mike Deeks

Project overview

This project will link the major developmental alterations caused by plant pathogens to the fundamental changes in cellular polarity that underpin all these responses.


Plant responses to pathogens integrate direct spatial information that is enabled through changes in cell polarity. These changes are possible due to the incredible plasticity in plant growth; even though individual cells are incapable of changing neighbours. These alterations in anisotropic growth and polarisation mechanisms rely on an increasingly well-characterised set of molecular components.

Efforts to obtain a fuller understanding of these processes will be enhanced through interactions with mathematicians, modellers, biophysicists amongst others.

The fundamental processes that control of cell polarity, asymmetric growth and the host-pathogen molecular arms race underpin the developmental responses that determine agricultural productivity. Therefore these responses have long-term impacts on food security, modes of sustainable agriculture and support for the bioeconomy. 

Project summary

Our initial objective is to narrow the gap between plant scientists and a multidisciplinary group of potential collaborators. We will facilitate a two-way conversation in which plant scientists present the challenges that drive their research and the associated data that they have generated. In turn the collaborating mathematicians, modellers and biophysicists will introduce their areas of expertise and establish the minimum information they require to work with plant-science data. This will bring members of different research areas closer together with the aim of developing new interactions.

We will nurture these interactions by ensuring that researchers have a series of opportunities to discuss how these relationships can be developed.

We expect that these interactions will lead to preliminary hypotheses that address how changes in cell polarity may contribute to the response to plant pathogens.

This will allow collaborators to understand where new data is needed to feed into these nascent models. We expect that these interactions will lead to grant applications both from bilateral collaborations that propose to investigate specific questions or from larger consortia who will aim to tackle broader fundamental challenges.

The success of this network will be qualified by the formation of new interactions and quantified through the submission of multidisciplinary cross-partner grant applications.

Community site (GW4 Portal)