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Getting to the root of plant growth

A £9.2m research centre at The University of Nottingham will break new ground in our understanding of plant growth and could lead to the development of drought-resistant crops for developing countries.

The Centre for Plant Integrative Biology (CPIB) will focus on cutting-edge research into plant biology — particularly the little-studied area of root growth, function and response to environmental cues.

A greater understanding of plant roots, particularly how they respond to different levels of moisture, nutrients and salt in the soil, could pave the way for the development of new drought-resistant crops that can thrive in arid areas and coastal margins of the developing world.

Because it is difficult to study roots — as all their growth occurs below ground level — scientists will develop a ‘virtual root’ using the latest mathematical modelling techniques. By developing computer models of the root that exactly mimic biological processes, they will be able to observe what is happening at every stage from the molecular scale upwards.

Research in this area is crucial because the roots dictate life or death for a plant through uptake of water and nutrients, and response to environmental factors.

The CPIB, which is based at The University of Nottingham’s Sutton Bonington Campus, has its official opening on July 2, 2007.

Professor Charlie Hodgman, Principal Director of the CPIB, said: “CPIB aims to set a prime example of how multidisciplinary teams can bring novel ideas to and discoveries in crucial aspects of plant science.”

CPIB brings together experts from four different Schools at the University — Biosciences, Computer Science & IT, Mathematical Sciences, and Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering.

They will create a ‘virtual root’ of the simple weed Arabidopsis, a species of the Brassica family routinely used for molecular genetic studies. Expertise in Arabidopsis research is already well developed at the Nottingham Arabidopsis Stock Centre, which integrally linked with CPIB.

This expertise will then be broadened into crop species. CPIB researchers ultimately aim to integrate their ‘virtual root’ with those of other international projects that model shoot and leaf development, leading to a generic computer model of a whole plant which will again be used to advance crop and plant science.

Representatives from UK research councils, industry, publishers, and external academics will gather at the opening event on July 2 with University of Nottingham staff from the four academic schools involved. The event will feature talks by members of the CPIB and invited speakers, including:

- Professor Philip Benfey, Duke University, USA
- Professor Jonathan Lynch, Penn State University, USA
- Professor Peter Hunter, University of Auckland, New Zealand.
CPIB is funded by the Systems Biology joint initiative of BBSRC and EPSRC, which has provided £27M for six specialised centres across the UK.

More details of the CPIB and its official opening are available from Dr Susannah Lydon on

Emma Thorne | alfa
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