Crop Molecular Physiology

Crop varieties and agricultural practices from the Green Revolution fuelled 20th-century population growth but are now recognized as unsustainable due to environmental harm. High-yield cereals like wheat, reliant on nitrogen fertilizer from the energy-intensive Haber-Bosch process, contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and eutrophication. To address this, our Crop Molecular Physiology group researches nitrogen responsiveness at the gene, the whole plant and the plot level, in order to discover and select crop varieties with a low nitrogen requirement and well adapted to regenerative agriculture practises. Collaborating with Ethiopia and India, we focus on millet species, including tef, aiming for sustainable cereal production.

Follow this link to view this group on the NIAB website

Research areas

Wheat decision: to respond or not respond to available nitrogen.

This project aims to enhance understanding of nitrogen responsiveness regulation in a globally important crop. Our hypothesis suggests that increasing nitrogen availability suppresses plant nitrogen responsiveness. Using genetic, molecular biology, and physiological methods, we’ll study nitrogen responsiveness in wheat. Specifically, we’ll focus on strigolactones’ role in wheat nitrogen responsiveness and its downregulation with increasing nitrogen availability.

Exploiting novel wheat genotypes for regenerative agriculture

At the forefront of arable farming challenges is the imperative to maximise grain yield and quality while minimising input costs and environmental harm. Currently, wheat varieties are primarily tested in high-input conditions and intensive cultivation methods, posing limitations for growers. Leveraging NIAB’s innovative farming system, we’ve evaluated regenerative agronomic practices’ impact on soil health. Concurrently, the Pre-Breeding Department has cultivated new wheat pre-breeding lines, enhancing genetic diversity. Our proposed joint project integrates these expertise areas to devise solutions for reducing the environmental footprint and expenses of wheat production. By assessing diverse wheat lines under regenerative practices, we aim to glean valuable insights for developing novel wheat varieties.

About the group leader

Stéphanie is a group leader in Crop Molecular Physiology based in Plant Genetics Department at the Crop Science Centre. She is interested in understanding how plants integrate and respond to different environmental conditions, such as nutrient availability, the presence of neighbouring plants (e.g. weeds) and different soil tillage levels. Her research aims to provide useful information for the development of crop varieties (especially wheat) suitable for low input regenerative agriculture practices while maintaining the yield and quality.

Led by

Stéphanie Swarbreck

Stéphanie Swarbreck

Leader of the Crop Molecular Physiology group

Other research groups

Ian Henderson

Genetic and Epigenetic Inheritance in Plants

Led by Ian Henderson

The Genetic and Epigenetic Inheritance group investigates plant genome structure, function, and evolution. T

Kostya Kanyuka

Pathogenomics & Disease Resistance

Led by Kostya Kanyuka

Kostya leads the Pathogenomics & Disease Resistance group at the Crop Science Centre and is Head of Plant Pathology at NIAB where he leads strategic, applied, and commercial research encompassing biology, detection, surveillance, and management of di

Tally Wright

Crop Quantitative Genetics

Led by Tally Wright

The quantitative genetics research group focuses on how genetic variation between different crop accessions can influence their phenotypes, particularly for traits controlled by many genes.

Johannes Kromdijk

Environmental Plant Physiology

Led by Johannes Kromdijk

This group studies the physiology of photosynthesis and its interactions with environmental drivers such as light, water, temperature and CO2 with the ultimate aim to improve crop productivity and water use efficiency.

Phil Howell

Crop Genetic Resources

Led by Phil Howell

Our research group carries out the development and characterisation of existing and new crop genetic resources, drawing on NIAB’s experience in genetics, pre-breeding, field testing and tissue culture.

Ji Zhou

Artificial Intelligence and Data sciences

Led by Ji Zhou

This group combines AI, computer vision, and data analytics with expertise in plant phenotyping, breeding, and agronomy to enhance crop production in the UK and developing countries

Natasha Yelina

Crop breeding technologies

Led by Natasha Yelina

Novel breeding technologies in legume crops to enhance the production of new cultivars adapted to changing climatic conditions, as well as having sustainable yields.

Jeongmin Choi

Crop resilience

Led by Jeongmin Choi

As sessile organisms, plants have evolved sophisticated mechanisms to help cope with environmental stress.

Uta Paszkowski

Cereal symbiosis

Led by Uta Paszkowski

The mutually beneficial arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis is the most widespread association between roots of terrestrial plants and fungi of the Glomeromycota.

Lida Derevnina

Crop pathogen immunity

Led by Lida Derevnina

We aim to functionally characterise the NRC network and determine the molecular basis of NLR network mediated immunity.

Giles Oldroyd

Sustainable crop nutrition

Led by Giles Oldroyd

The availability of sources of nitrogen and phosphorus are major limitations to crop productivity. This is primarily addressed through the application of inorganic fertilisers to augment these limiting nutrients.

Sebastian Eves-van den Akker

Plant-parasitic interactions

Led by Sebastian Eves-van den Akker

Combining genomics and molecular biology to understand fundamental questions in host:parasite biology

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