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Current Lab Members

Meet the team

Prof Miriam Gifford (Lab head)

Miriam Gifford

Description: Miriam’s interests are in studying complex networks involved in plant responses to the environment and plasticity. Her group has a broad range of interests and she aims to support individual projects whilst also fostering a sense of the core Gifford lab focus. She also acts as Head of the School of Life Sciences which involves juggling lots of roles in teaching and research strategy and operations.

Special research interest: During a PhD and postdoctoral work she developed systems (now engineering) biology approaches to do study plant root-environment dynamics and is particularly fascinated with location of response.

Goes well with: Lab lunches, posing hypotheses that include ‘to what extent’.

Does not go well with: Lack of coloured pens or hypotheses.

Best trait: Enthusiasm for projects and “nodding encouragingly".

Favourite quote: "You wanna tempt the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing?" – The West Wing

Dr Beatriz Lagunas

Background: Beatriz studied Biochemistry at the University of Zaragoza before doing a PhD in the Experimental Station of Aula Dei on Soybean and Arabidopsis chloroplast lipid biosynthesis. She then came to the UK to work in Prof. Gifford’s lab researching on legume nodulation starting as a Senior Research Technician, then as a BBSRC postdoctoral fellow and now as an Assistant Professor – teaching focussed but still associated to the Gifford group research.

Description: Beatriz now oversees the group’s scientific development by engaging with all projects in the lab, she meets with all students and engages in all discussions and collaborations. Her expertise lies on the area of legume science: both aboveground (chloroplast lipid and oxylipin biosynthesis) and belowground (nodulation efficiency, root microbiome, circadian regulation of nodulation and root adaptations to the environment).

Special research interest: I’d like to know what is the role of plastids in legume-rhizobia interactions so I have started a project to tag them and follow them in this symbiosis.

Goes well with: Scientific discussions, thinking out of the box, problem solving, cheese and wine.

Does not go well with: Lack of engagement and no cheese nor wine.

Best trait: Perseverance (stubbornness, some would say).

Favourite quote: "Nobody said it would be easy" – Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

Dr Emma Picot

Background: Emma’s studied an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at the University of Warwick, continuing to do an MSc in Systems Biology followed by a PhD in the transcriptional regulation of circadian-clock regulated genes in Arabidopsis thaliana with Professor Isabelle CarréLink opens in a new window. After this she moved to the Department of Genetics at the University of Leicester to study the genetic mechanism for phenotypic variation in clock phenotypes in fruit flies. She then returned to Warwick to work on circadian changes in the soil microbiome with Professor Gary BendingLink opens in a new window, sparking the interest in plant-microbe interactions.

Description: Emma’s current research focusses on the symbiotic relationship between Medicago truncatula and nitrogen fixing rhizobia and how this is affected when a plant has altered circadian clock function.

Special Interest: Using “big data” to understand scientific relationships, and improving agriculture through the use of microbes.

Goes Well With: R scripts, Pepsi max, dry white wine.

Does Not Go Well With: Dying plants, lack of curiosity.

Favourite quote: “Life, uh, finds a way” – Dr. Ian Malcom

Dr. Liam Walker

Background: Liam did his undergraduate degree (Medical, Microbiology and Virology, 2011-2015) at the School of Life Sciences here at the University of Warwick before transferring to do an integrated masters degree (MBio). Liam then did his PhD (2015-2020) here in the Gifford lab, studying differential gene expression when roots are exposed to rhizobial symbionts or root pathogens in the model legume Medicago truncatula. During this time, he also worked extensively with fluorescence activated cell sorting data to understand how environmental responses are partitioned within Arabidopsis roots and adapting these techniques to M. truncatula. Liam then stayed at Warwick for a Postdoc in the lab of Prof George Bassel where he studied bet-hedging in seed populations; he used rational engineering approaches to modify the extent of bet-hedging and developed a luciferase assay to monitor seed germination in real time. Additionally, he also undertook computational work to produce 3D reconstructions of plant organs to understand how they have changed throughout the evolution of land plants.

Description: Liam is working as a Research Fellow via Warwick University combining project management, guidance and mentorship of students, independent research and teaching and outreach activities.

Special interests: Plant microbe-interactions, plant development, plant evolution.

Goes well with: Pasta, sports, video games, spheal.

Does not go well with: Wasps, hot drinks, blood & gore.

Best trait: Perfectionist.

Favourite quote: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” – Wayne Gretzky

Jamie Burgess

Background: Jamie completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Warwick where he studied Biological Sciences. He then went on to do his master’s there, working on analysing RNA sequencing data from a previous experiment in the Gifford lab that investigated the transcriptional response of Medicago truncatula to different rhizobial symbionts. Jamie is now working on investigating synthetic microbial communities and their impact on plant growth in M. truncatula as well as working on another non-legume called Parsponia andersonii, the only non-legume to form a symbiosis with rhizobial bacteria.

Description: Jamie’s PhD focuses on looking at how synthetic microbial communities can promote or inhibit plant growth, focussing on the model legume Medicago truncatula. As well as investigating the mechanisms of nodulation in the tropical tree Parasponia andersonii which, uniquely among non-legumes, forms nodules with rhizobial bacteria. These experiments will look at the physiology of nodules, how gene in expression in the host is altered by different rhizobial partners and how nodulation interacts with the root microbiome. All to learn more about nodulation, the root microbiome and nitrogen fixation can be utilised in the development of more sustainable agriculture.

Special Interest: Investigating how the plant microbiome interacts with the process of nodulation and how comparative experiments between legumes and the nodulating non-legume Parasponia andersonii can teach us more about nodulation.

Goes Well With: The outdoors, Dungeons and Dragons and rainy weather.

Does Not Go Well With: Tissue culture contamination and raisins.

Favourite quote: “The pen is mightier than the sword if the sword is very short and the pen is very sharp” – Terry Pratchett

Alice Coppock

Background: Alice studied Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge where she was introduced to world of plant sciences. She completed a research masters in the Osborne lab at the university of Sheffield studying the adaptation of leaf anatomy to different environmental conditions. In 2019 she joined the Gifford lab as part of the MIBTP doctoral training programme - moving below-ground to study the traits and interactions of plants and microbes!

Description: Alice’s PhD focuses on identifying and characterising potential plant growth promoting bacteria that might also work alongside our rhizobial symbionts. She has focused her efforts on a collection of bacteria identified by the lab as potentially strong candidates and has since been characterising the effect of these microbes on the plant growth of Medicago and Arabidopsis.

Special interest: The selection and function of the plant holobiont.

Goes well with: Baked goods, problem solving and plants growing (not dying!)

Does not go well with: Lack of sleep, food or caffeine (Though typically can be compensated with one of the three)

Favourite quote: “If you don't like bacteria, you're on the wrong planet.”― Stewart Brand

Suzanna Dickson

Background: Suzanna studied Neuroscience at The University of Manchester before working there as a research technician in a circadian immunology lab. Slowly she realised that plant biology is much more interesting than human biology and moved to Warwick in 2022 to join the Gifford group as part of the MIBTP PhD scheme.

Description: Suzanna’s PhD focuses on the impact of the circadian clock on plant root symbionts.

Special interest: Comparative circadian biology.

Goes well with: Cake, bicycles and the sea.

Does not go well with: Beetroot.

Favourite quote: “Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so.” ― Douglas Adams

Zhipeng (Jack) Guo

Background: Zhipeng (Jack) studied Practaculture Sciences at the Henan Agricultural University (China) where he came into contact with the world of Practaculture Sciences and plant sciences since 2011. He completed an academic master's in professor Xuebing Yan’s lab at the Henan Agricultural University studying the characteristics of virus infection and identification of alfalfa mosaic virus in 30 alfalfa varieties from 2015 to 2018. He began his doctoral research in professor Quanzhen Wang’s lab at Northwest A&F University (China) studying the analysis of the expression profile and molecular mechanisms of alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) anti-AMV mediated by nano-engineering materials since 2019. In 2022 he joined the Gifford lab as a China Scholarship Council visiting researcher studying polymer nanoparticles at the plant/soil/microbe interface and characterising the intersection of plant virus infection on the nodulation and nitrogen responses in Medicago truncatula.

Description: Jack’s research focuses on the loading of plants with six different synthetic nanoparticles and the evaluation of penetration using confocal laser fluorescence microscopy. Treatment of plants with selected nanoparticles, extraction of RNA, and measurement of expression of a series of stress-related report genes. On the other hand, identifying the potential plant viruses that can infect Medicago truncatula. Exploring the interaction between virus infection and nodulation.

Special interest: Effects of nanomaterials on the growth, development and function of plants/microorganisms.

Goes well with: Playing sports (Basketball and snooker/pool), problem-solving, plant-growing, and slice-making.

Does not go well with: Smoking or lack of sports.

Best trait and related quote: “Seeing is believing.” ― The Analects of Confucius

Clare Hurst

Background: Clare studied Biological Sciences at the University of East Anglia, where she began a keen interest in plants. She has completed research projects in the Malone lab and the Seung lab at the John Innes Centre, and the Royal Horticultural Society in Wisley, covering plant pathogen interactions, the plant molecular starch mechanism, and the impact of fungal pathogen epidemics on botanical plants. She joined the Gifford lab in 2023 as an MIBTP PhD student to focus on legume-rhizobia molecular interactions.

Description: Clare’s PhD focuses on the autoregulation of nodulation; a key mechanism in legumes that turns off nodule synthesis in response to external nitrogen in the soil or internal nitrogen produced by the symbiotic rhizobia. She studies the CLE peptide signals involved in this process in Medicago truncatula, characterising their role in the mechanism and identifying potential candidates for producing nitrogen efficient plants in the future.

Special interest: All things planty, in particular plant-microbe interactions

Goes well with: Making detailed lists, matcha, animal crossing, cats

Does not go well with: Late-night working, mushrooms

Related quote: “I know a few things but I still got a lot to learn” Kacey Musgraves

Matthew Jolly

Background: I did my undergrad at the University of Warwick in biological sciences and found out about the opportunities and relevance of plant biology during my 3rd year research project on plant proteomics. I made my way to the Gifford lab due to my fascination with symbiotic interactions. I was introduced to the Gifford lab with my master’s project and am continuing on in the lab to do my PhD. I am currently working on the circadian clock project where we are trying to elucidate the clocks control and effect on legume-rhizobia symbiosis.

Description: I am utilizing and developing multiple methods to transform Medicago including protoplasts, biolistics, seed and floral agrobacterium transformation methods. The ultimate goal is to generate clock transformant lines to better understand the circadian clocks impact on legume-rhizobia symbiosis.

Special interest: Plant transformation techniques.

Goes well with: Rock climbing, ergonomic pipettes.

Does not go well with: Leaky waste bags, low concentration miniprep results.

Favourite quote: “Nature presents us with such beauty and such horror, yet is cruel or kind enough to prevent us from distinguish between the two”

Hazel Marsden

Monique Rowson

Background: Monique completed a Biological Sciences (MBio) degree at the University of Warwick where she investigated the mechanism of gene expression rhythm in Sinorhizobium meliloti for her Masters. In 2020 she started her PhD at the University of Warwick on the Midlands Integrated Biosciences Training Programme funded by BBSRC in Professor Miriam Giffords lab under joint supervision with Professor Isabelle Carré looking at the role of the plant circadian clock in regulating the Medicago truncatula – rhizobia symbiosis.

Description: Monique’s research is focused on the plant circadian clock and its role in governing a successful symbiotic relationship between Medicago truncatula and Sinorhizobium meliloti.

Special interest: I’d like to better understand how circadian regulation over the expression of Nodule-Specific Cysteine-Rich peptides (NCRs) affects nodulation.

Goes well with: Meeting other scientists.

Does not go well with: Misbehaving bacteria.

Favourite quote: “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana” – Oettinger, Anthony G

Cara Wharton

Background: Cara studied for a Natural Sciences BSc degree in Biology and Chemistry at the University of Durham, and completed a MSc in Molecular Biotechnology from the University of Hertfordshire. She then worked as a Seed Development and Metabolism research technician at Rothamsted Research, before joining the MIBTP doctoral training programme.

Description: Cara’s PhD is a collaboration between Harper Adams University and the University of Warwick involving physiological and molecular analysis of rapid rooting traits in lettuce.

Special research interest: How root traits can help crops adapt to the changing climate.

Goes well with: Chocolate and house plants

Does not go well with: Horror films

Favourite quote: “When all else fails, take a nap” – Winnie the Pooh (A. A. Milne)