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Dr Joe McKenna

BBSRC Discovery Fellow


Phone: 024 765 73194

Office: B142

  Twitter: Joey_McK

Research Clusters

Plant & Agricultural Biosciences

Cells & Development

Research/Teaching Interests

Plants are the basis of food security and energy / CO2 capture on planet Earth. The major challenges of climate change and population growth mean that we need to grow 60% more food by 2050 in a period where both cold and warm temperature shocks and extreme weather events are occurring with increased frequency. Therefore, novel insights into harnessing plant growth based on fundamental discoveries are required. One area of unexplored potential is how the individual functional components within the cell (known as organelles) are organised and controlled.

Organelles within plants show rapid and coordinated movement which is critical for normal growth and development as well as enabling the plant to respond to environmental conditions. Organelles are known to change shape and alter their movement during certain stresses, including heat and cold stress. However, we do not know precisely how this movement occurs although we know it is driven by the actin cytoskeleton and special motor proteins.

The actin cytoskeleton is an intricate filamentous network in the cortex of plant cells which, if disrupted, stops organelle movement. My research utilises using specialised microscopy to study how the actin cytoskeleton interacts with organelles, driving movement within the cell.

Research: Technical Summary

Organelle dynamics underpin fundamental processes necessary for life in all organisms. In plants, the secretory pathway (ER and Golgi bodies), nucleus and plastids show high mobility within the cell. This movement is driven by the actin cytoskeleton. If actin is perturbed then organelle movement stops. Moreover, if chimeric myosin motor proteins with faster motor domains are expressed, plant biomass increases. Therefore, organelle dynamics have a fundamental role in plant growth and development as well as biotic and abiotic stresses and could be re-engineered to improve food security.

Using a combination of live cell imaging, image analysis and proximity labelling proteomics I study how organelles interact with the actin cytoskeleton and each other.

School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick, UK

  • BBSRC Discovery Fellow: 2023 – Onwards
  • Research Fellow, Frigerio Lab: 2021-2023

 Oxford Brookes University, Department of Biological and Medical Sciences, UK

  • PDRA and Light Microscopist: 2016-2020
  • DRA, Runions Lab: 2013-2016

 Imperial College London, Department of Life Sciences, UK

  • DPhil, Analysis of the signalling mechanisms involved in Cell Wall Integrity maintenance in A.thaliana, Hamann Lab: 2009-2013
  • Res Plant Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: 2008-2009

 University of Birmingham, School of Biosciences

  • BSc Hons Biological Sciences: 2004-2008