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Sainsbury Laboratory

Research interests

I have always been fascinated by the diversity of shapes and patterns found in nature. We see an incredible diversity of shapes in life – yet they all started as a single cell.  My work focuses on plants and understanding how they develop their final shapes. However plants are made of cells that are surrounded by a rigid cell wall, which means they cannot move or change shape easily. As a consequence, all changes of shape and growth of plant organs are directed by how individual cells grow and divide. Spatial and temporal coordination of division and growth at tissue and organ level is required to ensure proper organ morphogenesis (shape determination) and patterning. In my research, I use a combination of genetics, molecular biology, 3D and 4D imaging, mechanical measurements and image analyses to understand plant morphogenesis and development.


Microtubules dynamics during Guard Mother Cell division in Arabidopsis thaliana cotyledon epidermis. Image by Leo Serra.


Leaf margin morphogenesis

During my PhD supervised by Catherine Rechenmann (IJPB, Versailles, France), I used 4D confocal imaging and MorphoGraphX software to map and analyse gene expression, cell division events and growth-related parameters during leaf margin morphogenesis. Leaf shape varies greatly between species and understanding leaf development provides an insight into the processes of plant development and the cellular events involved in structural organisation of leaf shape. I characterised the involvement of CUC-SHAPED COTYLEDONS 3 transcription factor in the spatial and temporal regulation of cell growth at the leaf margin.


Cell division mechanics and growth in plants

I joined the Robinson group in 2019 to study the relationships between cell division, mechanics and growth during plant development. Plant morphogenesis is a complex multi--scale process involving cell divisions and cell expansions that must all be coordinated in order to result in a fully-formed functional organ like a leaf, flower or root. I am using inducible lines to trigger the formation of ectopic division in various growing plant organs, and to study the impact of these divisions on plant development. I am also using live imaging and image analyses to investigate the factors that are influencing the orientation of divisions.


Time lapse recording showing the onset of division in epidermis during early cotyledon development in Arabidopsis thaliana. Image by Leo Serra.


Imaging tools for plant sciences

As I am addicted to microscopy and the production of nice 3D images, I also recently took part in the development of a new imaging protocol to produce 3D reconstruction of challenging plant samples. The protocol, named Flip-Flap, can produce 3d images of plant tissues using a laser scanning confocal microscope. 3D imaging of intact plant samples is not always simple and often requires expensive and complex processes. The aim of Flip-Flap is to give all researcher access to 3D imaging and to make the process straight forward without requiring specialist techniques or advanced equipment.


Serra, L., Tan, S., Robinson, S., Langdale, J.A. Flip-Flap: A Simple Dual-View Imaging Method for 3D Reconstruction of Thick Plant Samples. Plants 2022, 11, 506.

Serra, L. and Robinson, S.; Plant cell divisions: variations from the shortest symmetric path. Biochem Soc Trans 18 December 2020; 48 (6): 2743–2752.

Serra, L. and Perrot Rechenmann, C. Spatio temporal control of cell growth by CUC3 shapes leaf margin. Development. 2020 Mar 18;147(6). 

Serra, L., Arnaud, N., Selka, F., Rechenmann, C., Andrey, P. and Laufs, P. (2018). Heterogeneity and its multiscale integration in plant morphogenesis. Current Opinion in Plant Biology, 46, pp.18-24.



Research Associate
Dr Leo  Serra

Contact Details

Sainsbury Laboratory
University of Cambridge
47 Bateman Street, Cambridge CB2 1LR
United Kingdom
Email address: 


@LeoSerra13 (Twitter)