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Professor Miriam Gifford

Miriam Gifford

Contact Details

Professor Miriam Gifford

School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick

Research Interests

We are interested in how plants interact with the environment. The mechanisms that facilitate this interaction are particularly important for plants since they are sessile yet still cope with environmental extremes.

When plant roots and microbes work together in symbiosis the ways they interact are even more important since more efficient interactions benefit both. By combining study of the root cell types that house microbes, the soil in which the interaction exists, and the genes and molecules regulating it, we aim to improve plant yield and sustainability in tune with the environment.

From root-soil-rhizosphere interactions, to circadian-shaping of nodulation, our work investigates a number of plant-nitrogen interactions. Please see my Gifford lab webpage where you can hear more details from the staff and students in the group.

Scientific Inspiration

When I went to study biology at the University of Edinburgh I’d never heard of plant sciences (it was just photosynthesis that was taught at school) and thus chose a specialisation in genetics. But in my 1st year I had a terrific lecturer called Philip Smith, an old-school botanist, who introduced us to the excitement of plant sciences. In 1st year he told stories of plants “killing their neighbours”, trailering later more specialised courses (“something you will learn, but only in your 2nd year”). This definitely inspired me to pursue research and I hope I convey some of this excitement in my teaching!

Current Projects

Prof Gifford is supervisor on the below project:

Nanoparticles for penetrating complex polysaccharide matrices – cell walls and biofilms

Secondary Supervisor(s): Prof Remzi Becer (Chemistry), Prof Richard Napier, Dr Freya Harrison

University of Registration: University of Warwick

BBSRC Research Themes:

Apply here!

Deadline: 4 January, 2024

Project Outline


To find carbon-based nanostructures that will pass through complex polysaccharide matrices to deliver drugs and/or reporters.


The Becer group has tremendous expertise in the synthesis and chemistry of defined polymer nanostructures. The Harrison group studies how bacterial pathogens are able to form long-lived, chronic infections with high levels of tolerance to antibiotics, with a special focus on how bacterial biofilms affect how they respond to drugs. The Gifford and Napier groups are evaluating the penetration of designed polymer nanoparticles into plants as possible vehicles for targeted interventions.

In each research area the cells of interest are surrounded by natural, structural polysaccharide barriers. We are just beginning to learn the properties of polymer nanoparticles which can pass through these extracellular matrices but there is much more to be learnt if we are to develop efficient delivery systems for penetrating these barriers.

Research Idea

This highly interdisciplinary project will evaluate and learn the design features of carbon polymer-based nanostructures that are necessary for the best penetration of diverse, but natural polysaccharide gels. The nanoparticles will be fluorescent allowing their permeation and accumulation to be recorded using confocal microscopy. The project will include both design and chemical synthesis of polymer nanoparticles, and their biological characterisation. The ideal candidate will therefore have skills in both chemistry and cell biology. However, depending on your experience, you may focus more on one of these areas. The ideal candidate will have skills and interests in both chemistry and cell biology. Candidates with experience in either plant or animal cell biology are welcome.

Relevant References

Sweeney E, Sabnis A, Edwards AM and Harrison F. (2020) Effect of host-mimicking medium and biofilm growth on the ability of colistin to kill Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Microbiology. 166:1171-80. Becker J, Terracciano R, Yilmaz G, Napier R, Becer CR (2023) Step-growth glycopolymers with a defined tacticity for selective carbohydrate–lectin recognition. Biomacromolecules 24: 1924–1933. 

Parkinson SJ, Tungsirisurp S, Joshi C, Richmond BL, Gifford ML, Sikder A, Lynch I, O’Reilly, RK and Napier, RM (2022) Polymer nanoparticles pass the plant interface. Nature Comms. 13:7385. 

Collis DWP, Yilmaz G, Yuan Y, Monaco A, Ohbaum G, Shi Y, O'Malley C, Uzunova V, Napier R, Bittot R, Becer R, Azevedo HS. (2021) Hyaluronan (HA)-inspired glycopolymers as molecular tools for studying HA functionsLink opens in a new windowLink opens in a new window. RSC Chemical Biology, 2: 568-576.


Synthetic polymer chemistry, dynamic light scattering, confocal microscopy, electron microscopy, microbiology, human pathology, plant molecular biology, quantitative RT-PCR, etc.

Prof Gifford is also co-supervisor on all projects with Professor George Bassel.

Previous Projects

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