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Sainsbury Laboratory

During my undergraduate, I worked in Liam Dolan’s lab on the role of miRNAs in the development of the model liverwort Marchantia polymorpha. My research project was two-fold: (i) the general and sex-specific importance of miRNAs in the vegetative to reproductive phase transitions, and (ii) the role of the RSL Class 1 transcription factor and its microRNA FRH1 in regulating the formation of vegetative structures.

For my PhD, I am investigating the role of phytohormones and other endogenous signals in regulating the outgrowth of axillary buds in Arabidopsis thaliana. Auxin is a key phytohormone in this process, and I am particularly interested in the roles of different auxin exporters in bud activation. In addition to understanding the factors that determine whether a bud activates, I am also interested in the outgrowth dynamics of activated buds. I am currently focusing on the dynamics of isolated bud explants, and I hope to subsequently use the knowledge gained to obtain an organism-wide understanding of shoot branching dynamics.


Research Interests

Plant shoot architecture is continually modulated during growth, giving plants a huge degree of phenotypic plasticity and enabling them to adapt to changing environmental conditions. This is very advantageous given their sessile nature. A key determinant of shoot architecture is the activity of axillary buds, which have the same developmental potential as the main stem, but the outgrowth of which can be suppressed in a process known as apical dominance. The decision of a bud to grow out requires the integration of local and systemic signals, and as such is an example of decentralised decision making. Elucidating how bud outgrowth is regulated genetically is central to explaining the variety of branching phenotypes observed and will provide an understanding of how plants, unlike most animals, can function without a central processing organ. 

I am also very interested in more conceptual biological questions such as the nature of auxin as an informational versus permissive signal (See Bennett and Leyser 2014), the notion of biological individuality, and major evolutionary transitions across taxa.

PhD Student
 Zoe  Nahas

Contact Details

Sainsbury Laboratory
University of Cambridge
47 Bateman Street
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