skip to content

Sainsbury Laboratory

Alexander Jones

Research Group Leader

Sainsbury Laboratory
University of Cambridge
Bateman Street

Cambridge CB2 1LR


The Jones group investigates how plant hormones serve as signal integrators and master regulators of physiology and development. In multicellular organisms, these functions are crucial for the coordination of the activities of individual cells – each having an independently tuneable hormone level and hormone response – into an ensemble behaviour appropriate for the organism as a whole. Our recent advent of ABACUS and GPS biosensors permits analysis of ABA and GA levels with cellular resolution and we are now observing hormone patterns that were previously unknown.

ABA in vivo. In plants, ABA is a key regulator of water use efficiency and also controls key developmental decisions such as the timing of germination and the patterning of root architecture to match environmental conditions. Despite this, several fundamental questions remain unanswered: which cells accumulate these hormones in response to key stimuli and when do these accumulations begin and end? Using ABACUS, we have begun to unravel how ABA concentrations are patterned spatially or change over time. We now aim to use a genetic approach to dissect out the quantitative contributions of specific ABA biochemical activities on these patterns and dynamics.

GA in vivo. Developmental transcription factors, light, temperature, and other hormones all influence the concentration of GA, which promotes elongation growth in many plant tissues leading variously to altered stature, germination, fruiting, and crop yield. In plants expressing GPS1, we observe gradients of GA in elongating root and shoot tissues. We now aim to understand how a series of independently tuneable enzymatic and transport activities combine to articulate the GA gradients that we observe. We further aim to discover the mechanisms by which endogenous and environmental signals, for example the light environment, regulate these GA enzymes and transporters.

Synthetic biology. Our overarching goal for all the work in the lab is a systems level understanding of the signal integration upstream and growth programming downstream of phytohormones. Such an understanding could guide targeted interventions into plant physiology and development for improved food security. However, the biosensor development and optimization is an iterative process and we continue to improve upon and diversify the set of hormone biosensors that we engineer. In addition, it is clear that high-resolution sensing is not sufficient - we now need to be able to perturb the dynamic patterns of these hormones in high-resolution in order to test the functional consequences of specific hormone accumulations and depletions. Towards this end, we are also engineering tools for optical control of gene expression in plant systems.


Key Publications

Rizza A, Tang B, Stanley CE, Grossmann G, Owen MR, Band LR, Jones AM. Differential biosynthesis and cellular permeability explain longitudinal gibberellin gradients in growing roots. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2021. PMID: 33602804

Balcerowicz M, Shetty KN, Jones AM. O auxin, where art thou? Nat Plants 2021. PMID: 33958778

Balcerowicz M, Shetty KN, Jones AM. Fluorescent biosensors illuminating plant hormone research. Plant Physiology 2021. kiab278

Rizza A, Walia A, Lanquar V, Frommer WB, Jones AM. In vivo gibberellin gradients visualized in rapidly elongating tissues. Nature Plants 2017. 

Jones AM. A new look at stress: abscisic acid patterns and dynamics at high-resolution. New Phytologist 2015. PMID: 26201893

Jones AM, Xuan Y, Xu M, Wang RS et al. Border control – a membrane-linked interactome of Arabidopsis. Science 2014. PMID: 24833385

Jones AM, Danielson JA, ManojKumar S, Lanquar V, Grossman G, Frommer WB. Abscisic acid dynamics in roots detected with genetically encoded FRET biosensors. eLife 2014. PMID: 24737862

            Highlighted in eLife Insight article: Choi W-G, Gilroy S. eLife. 2014; 3: e02763.

            Highlighted in TheScientist Modus Operandi article: Williams R. Stressing and FRETing. August 1st 2014.

Jones AM*, Grossman G*, Frommer WB. In vivo biochemistry: Applications for small molecule biosensors in plant biology. Current Opinion in Plant Biology 2013. PMID: 23587939 *equal contribution

Okumoto S*, Jones A*, Frommer WB. Quantitative imaging with fluorescent biosensors. Annu Rev Plant Biol. 2012.  PMID: 22404462 *equal contribution

Jones AM, Wildermuth MC. The phytopathogen Pseudomonas syringae pv tomato DC3000 has three high-affinity iron-scavenging systems functional under iron limitation conditions but dispensable for pathogenesis. J Bacteriol. 2011.  PMID: 21441525

Jones AM, Lindow SE, Wildermuth MC. Salicylic acid, yersiniabactin, and pyoverdin production by the model phytopathogen Pseudomonas syringae pv tomato DC3000: synthesis, regulation, and impact on tomato and Arabidopsis host plants. J Bacteriol. 2007.  PMID: 17660289

Group Members

 Abacus 1

ABA responses of ABACUS1 in Arabidopsis roots.

ABA responses of ABACUS1 in Arabidopsis roots. Images show fluorescence ratio (DxAm/DxDm) images showing pattern of ABACUS1-2µ in response to six pulses of increasing concentration of (±)-ABA. Right: look up table used for false coloring of ratio images. DOI:


Analysis of a gibberellin biosensor expressed in nuclei of an etiolated Arabidopsis seedling.


Research supported by:

erc logo