Plant systems are characterised by complex genetic and cellular networks that are locked together by dynamic, parallel and non-linear feedback interactions that give rise to self-organised growth, repair and propagation. These evolved systems pose formidable barriers to rational engineering approaches. Yet, the challenge is compelling. Plants are capable of assembling harvestable materials, chemical and foodstuffs, and they can do this in a renewable fashion, cheaply and in up to gigatonne scale.
We have adopted the liverwort weed Marchantia polymorpha as a simple plant system and testbed for bioengineering. Liverworts are characterised by morphological simplicity, matched by simple underlying genome structure. The ease of culture, transformation and analysis of Marchantia make it an ideal system for experiments with plant development and synthetic biology. We have developed a battery of computational, imaging and genetic tools to allow clear visualisation of individual cells inside living plant tissues, and developed a common syntax and assembly methods for plant DNA parts that can be used to reprogram metabolism and development.
Jim Haseloff is a plant biologist working at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge. His scientific interests are focused on the engineering of plant morphogenesis, using microscopy, molecular genetic, computational and synthetic biology techniques. Prior to joining the Department of Plant Sciences, Jim served as group leader at MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge and his group developed advanced imaging techniques and modified fluorescent proteins for efficient use in plants. Before this, Jim was a research fellow at Harvard Medical School, working on trans-splicing ribozymes. He has also worked at the CSIRO Division of Plant Industry, Canberra, and developed methods for the design of the first synthetic RNA enzymes with novel substrate specificities. Jim is deeply involved with teaching Synthetic Biology at the University of Cambridge, and is very interested in its wider potential as a tool for engineering biological systems and underpinning sustainable technologies.
For details of his research and recent publication, please visit HERE
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