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Sainsbury Laboratory

I am interested in understanding how plant cells and organs acquire identity and how plants adapt their development in response to other organisms. I carried out my PhD studies at Duke University (USA) studying cell differentiation of the root ground tissue under the supervision of Dr. Philip Benfey. Currently, I’m a post-doctoral scientist working with Drs. Oldroyd and Jones. I’m a former EMBO Long-Term Fellow and recipient of the Marie Sklodowska Curie individual fellowship. Currently, I’m a Junior Research Fellow at Lucy Cavendish College.

Research Interests

In my current work, I am studying how legumes develop a specialised root-borne structure termed nodules. Nodules are formed to accommodate soil bacteria called rhizobia that can assimilate atmospheric nitrogen into a form readily accessible to the host plant (a process termed rhizobia-legume symbiosis). I am studying the role phytohormones play in the organogenesis and differentiation of nodules. To do this, I’m combining the technology developed in the Jones group to visualise hormones live during nodule development. I’m taking this work a step further by visualising hormones in other symbioses in legumes and in barley. My hope is that my research will provide an understanding of how plant hormones regulate symbiosis, which may be useful in aiding the design of crops that do not require environmentally-unfriendly fertiliser. 

A developing nodule on a Medicago truncatula root with cell wall staining. Image by Colleen Drapek.


Key Publications

Chen WQ*, Drapek C*, Li DX, Xu ZH, Benfey PN, Bai SN. Histone deacetylase HDA19 affects cortical cell fate by interacting with SCARECROW in the Arabidopsis root. Plant Physiology. 108, 276-288. (2019)

Drapek C., Sparks, E.E., Marhavy P., Andersen T.G., Hennacy J.H., Geldner, N. and Benfey P.N. Minimum requirements for changing and maintaining cell fate in the Arabidopsis root. Nature Plants. 4, 586-595. (2018)

Pierre-Jerome, E.*, Drapek C.*, Benfey P.N. Regulation of Division and Differentiation of Plant Stem Cells. Annual Reviews in Cell & Developmental Biology. 34, 289-310. (2018)

Drapek, C. Sparks, E.E., Benfey P.N. Uncovering gene regulatory networks controlling plant cell differentiation. Trends in Genetics. 33, 529–539 (2017).

Sparks, E.E., Drapek, C., Gaudinier, A., Li, S., Ansariola, M., Shen, N., Hennacy, J.H., Zhang, J., Turco, G., Petricka, J.J., Foret, J., Hartemink, A.J., Gordân, R., Megraw, M., Brady, S.M., Benfey, P.N. 2016. Establishment of Expression in the SHORTROOT- SCARECROW Transcriptional Cascade through Opposing Activities of Both Activators and Repressors. Developmental Cell 39, 585–596. (2016)

*denotes equal contribution

Research Associate
Dr Colleen  Drapek