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Sainsbury Laboratory

Giles received his BA in Plant Biology in 1994 from the University of East Anglia and his PhD in 1998 from the University of California, Berkeley. He began work in symbiotic associations in plants as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, California, under the guidance of Professor Sharon Long.  He started his independent research career in 2002 as a BBSRC David Philips Fellow at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. He joined SLCU as a group leader in November 2017. Giles has been honoured with the Society of Experimental Biology President’s Medal, a Royal Society Wolfson Research merit award, the EMBO Young Investigator award and now leads an international programme focused on engineering nitrogen-fixing cereals funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He is an editor at The Plant Cell and faculty member of the Faculty of 1000Plant Biology.

Research Interests

Most species of plants form intimate associations with beneficial microorganisms that facilitate the acquisition of limiting nutrients from the environment. Among the most advanced of such plant mutualistic associations are interactions with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.  In both of these instances the plant benefits from the association through the uptake of mineral nutrients from the environment, primarily phosphates and nitrogen. While interactions with nitrogen-fixing bacteria are restricted within the plant kingdom, limited to a clade of plants that includes the legumes, the arbuscular mycorrhizal association is ubiquitous among plants having emerged at a very early stage of plant evolution. The capability to associate with nitrogen-fixing bacteria involves a number of molecular processes common to the mycorrhizal association and this is because the evolution of nitrogen fixation utilised many existing symbiotic processes that facilitate mycorrhizal interactions.  Hence, the signal transduction pathway used by plants to recognise mycorrhizal fungi is also used by legumes to recognise nitrogen-fixing bacteria and the cell developmental processes that accommodate fungal hyphae within the cell are also used by legumes to facilitate intracellular colonisation by nitrogen-fixing bacteria. In our group we aim to understand the signalling and developmental processes in plants that allows interactions with mycorrhizal fungi and nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and to better define the similarities and differences between these two mutualistic associations. The long-term aim of our research is to broaden the plant host species that can accommodate nitrogen-fixing bacteria, in particular cereal crops, utilising the many symbiotic molecular processes that exist in cereals to facilitate mycorrhizal fungal interactions.  Nitrogen-fixing cereals have much potential to deliver more sustainable and secure food production systems, with particular potential to deliver significant yield improvements to the poorest farmers in the world.

Cross sections of nodules containing nitrogen-fixing bacteria (top panel, dark blue staining) and a spontaneously induced nodule that lacks nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

Key Publications


Charpentier, M, Sun J, Vaz Martins, T, Radhakrishnan, G, Findlay, K, Soumpourou, E, Thouin, T, Very, A, Sanders, D, Morris, R and Oldroyd, G (2016). Nuclear-localised cyclic gated channels mediate symbiotic calcium oscillations. Science 352:1102-1105

Sun, J, Miller, J, Granqvist, E, Wiley-Kalil, A, Gobbato, E, Maillet, F, Cottaz, S, Samain, E, Venkateshwaran, M, Fort, S, Morris, R, Ane, J, Denarie, J and Oldroyd, G (2015). Activation of symbiosis signaling by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in legumes and rice. Plant Cell 27:823-38

Granqvist, E, Sun, J, Op den Camp, R, Pujic, P, Hill, L, Normand, P, Morris, R, Downie, JA, Geurts, R, Oldroyd, G (2015). Bacterial-induced calcium oscillations are present in nitrogen-fixing associations of nodulating legumes and non-legumes. New Phytologist 207:551-558



Zipfel, C and Oldroyd, G (2017). Plant signaling in symbiosis and immunity. Nature 543: 328-336

Oldroyd, G (2013). Speak, friend, and enter: signaling systems that promote beneficial associations in plants. (2013). Nature Reviews Microbiology 11: 252-263

SLCU Research Group Leader
Russell R Geiger Professor of Crop Science
Director of the Crop Science Centre
Professor Giles  Oldroyd

Contact Details

Sainsbury Laboratory
University of Cambridge
Bateman Street
+44 (0)1223 761164