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Dr Raymond Wightman

Research Interests

I am investigating how physical changes in cell morphology give rise to above-ground plant organs such as leaves and flowers. These organs are derived from a continuous pool of undifferentiated cells within the shoot apical meristem. I am interested in how the cells of the meristem undergo proper transformations in shape and size which is a result of changes in cell wall deposition and remodelling of existing cell wall components.

1. Developing new microscopy tools for the plant sciences.

As our knowledge of the inner workings of plants increase, so does our demand for new tools to take our research to the next step. I work with other plant scientists at SLCU and staff from the Cambridge University Botanical Gardens to develop improved tools for probing all aspects of plant biology. This includes:

(i) cryoSEM techniques for looking at tissue organisation and the ultrastructure of cell walls, membranes and organelles. This is currently being used to give insight in to the complex development of Saxifrages.

(ii) Correlative FLIM-confocal-Raman microscopy for observing protein-protein interactions, 3D cellular organisation and distribution of molecular species ("chemical imaging ").

(iii) Developing new tools for cell culture and tissue engineering. Press release (

2. Cell wall formation.

 There are several poorly understood cell wall biosynthetic enzymes that appear to have a crucial role in maintaining the size and shape of the shoot apical meristem. This suggests that the cell walls in the meristem have important differences to those of the rest of the plant. Together with colleagues from the University of Melbourne, we now have a detailed view of all the chemical linkages within the meristem cell wall. We are looking at how particular wall components affect stem cell maintenance and plant growth. This work will enable the development of faster-growing commercial plants.

3. Cell Wall remodelling.

The ability of cell walls to change their mechanical properties in response to positional cues are critical for the emergence and maintenance of plant organs. Equally, wall remodelling enzymes are important for maintaining the physical structure of the shoot apical meristem. I am looking at the role of a group of "cut and paste" enzymes in plant development with a focus upon the plant apex. These enzymes can cut and reattach certain structural polysaccharides within the wall as well as incorporating newly formed wall material into the existing matrix. The data from this project will be used to update 3D computer models of the shoot apex.

4. The role of plant sterols in development.

Plant sterols are known to be important for a proper functioning cell membrane. We are looking at how proper sterol composition aids normal plant development using computational analysis of plant growth and phyllotaxis.

Current Collaborations:

  • Hamant lab, Lyon, France
  • Jönsson lab, Sainsbury LaboratoryBacic lab, Melbourne, Australia
  • Dupree lab, Department of Biochemistry, Cambridge
  • Smoukov lab, Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, Cambridge
  • Luo group, Mechanical Engineering, UCL
  • Peaucelle lab, INRA, France.
  • CUBG

Key Publications

Luo, C.J. and Wightman, R. From mammalian tissue engineering to 3D plant cell culture.  The Biochemist (September 2016)

Kumar, M., Wightman, R., Atanassov, I.,Gupta, A., Hurst, C., Hemsley, P. and Turner, S.R. S-Acylation of the cellulose synthase complex is essential for its plasma membrane localization. Science (2016) 353:166-169

Yang, W., Schuster, C., Beahan, C.T., Charoensawan, V., Peaucelle, A., Bacic, A.,Doblin, M.S., Wightman, R*. and Meyerowitz, E.M. Regulation of Meristem Morphogenesis by Cell Wall Synthases in Arabidopsis. Current Biology (2016) 26: 1404-15. *Corresponding author

Chomicki, G., Wightman, R. and Turner, S.R., A specific class of short treadmilling microtubules enhances cortical microtubule alignment. Molecular Plant (2016) 9: 1214-16.

Michelin, G., Refahi, Y., Wightman, R., Jonsson, H., Traas, J., Godin, C., Malandain, G. Spatio-temporal registration of 3D microscopy image sequences of Arabidopsis floral meristems. International Symposium on Biomedical Imaging. (2016).

Luo, C.J., Wightman, R., Meyerowitz, E.M., and Smoukov, S. 3D fibre scaffold as an investigative tool for studying the morphogenesis of isolated plant cells. BMC Plant Biology (2015) 15: 211. 

Peaucelle, A., Wightman, R., Hofte, H. The control of growth symmetry breaking in the Arabidopsis hypocotyl. Current Biology (2015) 25: 1746-1752.

Wightman,R., Chomicki, G., Kumar, M., Carr, P., and Turner, S.R. SPIRAL2 determines plant microtubule organization by modulating microtubule severing. Current Biology (2013) 23: 1902-1907. BBSRC press release

Wightman, R.*, Brown, D.*, Dupree, P., and Turner, S.R. The DUF579 gene family encodes members involved in xylan deposition to the woody secondary walls. Plant Journal (2011) 66: 401-413. (*Equal contribution)

Wightman, R. and Turner, S.R. Trafficking of the plant cellulose synthase complex. Review article for Plant Physiology (2010) 153: 427-432.

Liepman AH, Wightman R, Geshi N, Turner SR, Scheller HV. Arabidopsis – a Powerful Model System for Plant Cell Wall Research. Review article for Plant Journal (2010) 61: 1107-1121.

Wightman R., Marshall, R. and Turner, S.R. A cellulose synthase-containing compartment moves rapidly beneath sites of secondary wall synthesis. Plant
and Cell Physiology (2009) 50: 584-594.

Wightman, R. and Turner, S.R. The roles of the cytoskeleton during cellulose deposition at the secondary cell wall. The Plant Journal (2008) 54: 794-805.

Wightman, R. and Turner, S.R. Severing at sites of microtubule crossover contributes to microtubule alignment in cortical arrays. The Plant Journal (2007) 52: 742-51.

A 3D reconstruction of yellow fluorescent protein-labeled plasma membranes in the shoot apical meristem.