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Professor Miriam Gifford's Inaugural Lecture

A communication conversation: the dialogic between plants, microbes and us!

Nitrogen is the most limiting nutrient for plant growth, which means farmers have to provide costly industrially-produced fertiliser to their crops. Legume plants (such as peas or beans) form a remarkable interaction with soil-dwelling bacteria called rhizobia. The rhizobia are able to harvest nitrogen from the air and provide it to the host plant in exchange for other nutrients and carbon. The existence of this symbiosis means nitrogen fertiliser can be spared, and makes legumes a very energy-sustainable and nutrient-rich source of protein for plants and animals. The success of this interaction depends on how efficient the symbiosis is and plants finely tune their interactions - some microbes can get in, others are blocked, and even initially successful symbioses are sanctioned and shut down if resources are not shared evenly between the organisms!

Miriam Gifford’s past work has discovered that the key motorways of communication between legume and rhizobia stretches from the molecules within cells, up to the whole ecosystem level. Her research has always inspired her teaching direction, and vice versa. From comparing systems biology to iterative student learning cycles, to a Christmas lecture on Talk Amongst Your Cells and devising interactive tutorial topics with new technology, her work is inspired by studying interactions… especially when there’s a chance to throw in a few puns or throw around balloons. In this lecture she will explore the dialogic between plants, microbes and us!

Professor Miriam Gifford’s interests are in studying gene networks involved in plant responses to the environment and the variation or plasticity in these, with a particular focus on modelling gene networks controlling the efficiency of legume-rhizobia symbioses. After postdoctoral work at New York University (USA) she started her lab at Warwick University (UK) in 2009 where she is now Professor and the Head of School of Life Sciences (SLS). She balances her time between studying plants, sorting out SLS and driving her daughters to play hockey matches.

This event is co-hosted by the Warwick International Higher Education Academy (WIHEA) and the School of Life Sciences.