skip to primary navigationskip to content

Dr Lisa Willis

Dr Lisa Willis

Post Doctoral Researcher

Sainsbury Laboratory
University of Cambridge
Bateman Street

Cambridge CB2 1LR
Office Phone: +44(0)1223 761100

Research Interests

Throughout the aerial growth and development of a plant, much of the action is concentrated at its uppermost tip, at its shoot apical meristem (SAM). Here cells proliferate out from a centrally located stem cell niche, whereafter their fate- to be stem or a new organ such as a leaf or flower- is rapidly determined by a number of dynamic, coordinated, physiological processes. The result is almost invariably a collective arrangement of organs that forms one of a number of eye-catching patterns called phyllotaxies, the most conspicuous being the double-chirality spirals of the sunflower inflorescence. 

I am using time-lapse confocal microscopy and 3D segmentation and cell-tracking algorithms in order to quantify the dynamic positioning of PIN1, a protein that is important for organ differentiation in Arabidopis thaliana, and other key proteins through organ initiation at the SAM.  We will use these data in mathematical models of gene regulatory networks in order to test long-standing hypotheses about the mechanisms that generate
phyllotaxis. This study is a close collaboration with Yassin Refahi, Raymond Wightman from the Meyerowitz Group, and Christoph Godin's Group, Montepellier. 

My previous work has focused on mathematical and computational modelling of dynamical systems in biology. I have worked on the fascinating sub-microscopic morphogenesis that occurs in diatom exoskeletons, on a phenomenon in breast cancer called dormancy, where putatively patients relapse a decade or more after the removal of the primary tumour, and on abstract probabilistic models of pattern formation. In between the theoretical work, I was fortunate to receive training in Ian Tomlinson's genetics laboratory at Cancer Research UK, and then in Eileen Cox's diatom laboratory at the Natural History Museum.

Key Publications

Willis, L., Cox, E.J., Duke,T. (2013) A simple probabilistic model of sub-microscopic diatom morphogenensis. Journal of The Royal Society Interface 10(83):20130067. DOI:10.1098/rsif.2013.0067
Willis, L.
, Graham, T.A., Alarcon, T., Alison, M., Tomlinson, I.M.P., & Page,K.M. (2013) What can be learnt about the disease course of cancer dormancy from relapse data? PLoS One. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062320
L., Alarcon, T., Elia, G., Jones, L.J., Wright, N., Tomlinson, I.M.P., Graham, T.A., & Page, K.M. (2010) Breast cancer dormancy can be maintained by small numbers of micrometastases.  Cancer Research 70(11).
Willis, L.
, Page, K.M., Broomhead, D.S. & Cox, E.J. (2010) Discrete free-boundary reaction-diffusion model of diatom pore occlusions. Plant Ecology and Evolution 143(3):297—306.

Filed under:



SEM micrographs of diatom exoskeletons from the genera Hydrosera (top; the upper valve face is 50 microns in diameter) and Thalassiosira (bottom; the upper valve face is 15 microns in diameter)