skip to content

Sainsbury Laboratory


James graduated from the University of Warwick (2000) in Physics, before completing Maths Part III at Cambridge (2001). James then studied for a joint PhD in Biology and Theoretical Physics at the University of Warwick, with supervision from Professors Andrew Millar and Matthew Turner. During his PhD James used an iterative process of experiment and theory to propose a new feedback loop in the plant circadian (24-hour) clock. For this work he was awarded the Promega Young Geneticist of the Year award (2007). As first an EMBO Research Fellow and then a Human Frontiers Fellow, James conducted his postdoctoral work in the lab of Professor Michael Elowitz at the California Institute of Technology. He applied single cell time-lapse microscopy, modelling, and synthetic biology techniques to understand how cells amplify small molecule differences (noise) into alternative transcriptional states. He co-discovered a novel mode of prokaryotic signal encoding, frequency modulated pulsing. Since 2012 he has been a group leader at the Sainsbury laboratory investigating gene expression dynamics in microbial and plant systems. He was awarded the Merrimack-CSB2 Prize in Systems Biology in 2013.

Downstream targets of the cyanobacterial circadian clock can double their frequency from one peak to two peaks every 24 hours through an oscillatory incoherent feedforward loop circuit.


Key Publications

P. Gould*, M Domijan*, M Greenwood, IT Tokuda, HR Rees, L Kozma-Bognar,  AJ Hall^,  JCW Locke^, Coordination of robust single cell rhythms in the Arabidopsis circadian clock via spatial waves of gene expression, eLife, in press.

J Park, M Dies, Y Lin, S Hormoz, SE Smith-Unna, S Quinodoz, M Hernández-Jiménez, J Garcia-Ojalvo^, JCW Locke^, MB Elowitz^, Molecular time-sharing through dynamic pulsing in single cells, Cell Systems, 2018, 6 (2), 216-229.

B Landrein, P Jordan-Formosa, C Melnyk, C Schuster, W Yang, C Turnbull, EM Meyerowitz^, JCW Locke^, H Jönsson^, Nitrate modulates stem cell dynamics by regulating WUSCHEL expression through cytokinins, PNAS, 2018 Feb 6;115(6):1382-1387.

HM Meyer*, J Teles*, P Formosa-Jordan*, Y Refahi, R San-Bento, G Ingram, H Jönsson^, JCW Locke^, AHK Roeder^, Fluctuations of the transcription factor ATML1 generate the pattern of giant cells in the Arabidopsis sepal, eLife, 2017, e19131.

BMC Martins*, AK Das*, L Antunes, JCW Locke, Frequency doubling in the cyanobacterial circadian clock, Molecular Systems Biology, 2016, 12 (12), 896.

JH Jung*, M Domijan*, C Klose*, S Biswas*, D Ezer*, M Gao, AK Khattak, MS Box, V Charoensawan, S Cortijo, M Kumar, A Grant, JCW Locke, E Schäfer, KE Jaeger, PA Wigge, Phytochromes Function as Thermosensors in Arabidopsis, Science, 2016, Nov 18;354(6314):886-889.

MS Box, BE Huang, M Domijan, KE Jaeger, AK Khattak, SJ Yoo, EL Sedivy, DM Jones, TJ Hearn, AAR Webb, A Grant, JCW Locke, Wigge PA, ELF3 controls thermoresponsive growth in Arabidopsis, Current Biology, 2015, 19;25(2):194-9. 

J Young*, JCW Locke*, MB Elowitz, Rate of environmental change determines stress response specificity, PNAS, 2013,  Mar 5;110(10):4140-5.

JCW Locke*, J Young*, M Fontes, MB Elowitz, Stochastic pulse regulation in bacterial stress response, Science, 2011 Oct 21;334(6054):366-9.  

*Joint first authors

 ^Joint corresponding authors


Other Publications

Recent Reviews

K Abley, JCW Locke, HMO Leyser, Developmental mechanisms underlying variable, invariant and plastic phenotypes, Annals of Botany, 2016, 117 (5), 733-748

BMC Martins, JCW Locke, Microbial individuality: how single-cell heterogeneity enables population level strategies, Current Opinion in Microbiology, 2015, 24, 104-112.


Research supported by grants from


Research Group Leader
Royal Society University Research Fellow
Dr James  Locke

Contact Details

Sainsbury Laboratory
University of Cambridge
47 Bateman Street