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Biological Sciences

Plant and Algal Physiology, Productivity and Phenotyping

We investigate growth and physiology of plants and algae for the prediction of ecosystem processes and the enhancement of yield in crop species. We have facilities that allow the cultivation of algae and plants both in highly controlled environments and under field conditions. We have well equipped plant and algal physiology laboratories, including state-of-the-art automated phenotyping facilities. Skilled technical support operates these facilities.

Our facilities include:

  • State-of-the art equipment for the imaging of photosynthetic performance and plant growth (unique bespoke equipment designed and built in house). This includes Chlorophyll fluorescence and Thermal (Infra-Red) Imaging to measure important parameters such as photosynthetic performance and plant temperatures (providing an indication of evaporative cooling). Recently we have invented and built an imager capable of direct measurement of Water Use Efficiency.
  • Infra Red Gas Analysers (IRGAs) to measure the flux of carbon dioxide and water in and out of individual leaves, whole plants and algae cultures to provide detail physiological analysis of photosynthetic capacity and physiological responses to the environment.
  • Custom build Light Emitting Diode Arrays to manipulate the light environments of plant and algae allows us to mimic the natural dynamic environment or optimize artificial lighting conditions.
  • Algal and Cyanobacteria Fast Repetition Rate fluorometry (Frrf) to monitor photophysiology (photosynthetic efficiency, photo-system II (PSII) functional absorption cross section and electron transport) of algae and cyanobacterial species.  This is used to measure the stress status, efficiency and productivity of algae.
  • A Mass Inlet Mass Spectrometer (MIMS) for accurate determination of the turnover of isotopically labelled molecules such as water, molecular oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitric oxides.
  • Isotope facilities to measure 14C enable the fluxes and incorporation of labelled products to be ascertained.
  • Gas Chromotography Facilities for gas measurements (including trace gas and volatile measurements), lipid measurement and profiling, metabolite characterization or pollutant quantification.
  • An automated phenotyping platform for non-invasive monitoring of growth and phenotype of plants over their life cycle. The platforms allows subject such plants to environmental challenges such as controlled and measured withdrawal of watering, as well as dynamic light environments.
  • O2 evolution in algae and cyanobacteria using O2 disk electrodes non-invasively monitors photosynthesis.
  • Photosystem (PSII) centres quantification system built-in-house, combining LED flash systems combining with O2 disk electrodes.
  • Psychrometer and porometers for measuring plant water status and the impact of drought.
  • Bespoke software and statistical analysis that processes large imaging datasets associated with non-invasive measurement of plant performance.
  • High/ultra-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC and UPLC) capabilities for the measurement of metabolites and pigments.
  • A fluorometer for the rapid quantification of chlorophyll and the quantification of major taxonomic groups of phytoplankton in the field and in the lab.
  • Continuous-flow bioreactors and chemostats for the growth of algae under constant conditions in larger volumes.
  • An automated liquid handling platform and multimode plate reader for the high-throughput phenotyping and selection of algal cultures. Hundreds of algae strains can be grown and monitored in hundreds of growth environments simultaneously.  Measured responses include growth rate, lipid concentration and chlorophyll concentration.
  • A large collection of algae strains, spanning Antarctic and tropical, freshwater and marine species.

Algae and plant physiology and phenotyping work also harnesses the bioimaging for microscopic imaging, coral reef research unit for tropical algae, and molecular biology research facilities.