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Sainsbury Laboratory


James Locke

Research Group Leader

Royal Society University Research Fellow

Sainsbury Laboratory Cambridge
University of Cambridge Bateman Street
Cambridge CB2 1LR

Office Phone: 01223 761110

Research Interests

In order to gain a quantitative understanding of the gene circuits that underlie plant development, it is critical to examine gene regulation at the single cell level. Single cell analysis has revealed that gene regulation can be surprisingly dynamic and heterogeneous, in ways that are not identified by traditional approaches that take an average from a population. In our lab we use a combination of single cell time-lapse microscopy, mathematical modelling and synthetic biology approaches to understand the design principles of dynamic gene regulation. We do this in simpler model systems such as cyanobacteria and B. subtilis, where it is possible to have precise single cell control of gene regulation, but we have also extended our approach to Arabidopsis. In Arabidopsis we are able to build on our work on simpler systems to examine the functional role of dynamic, and even stochastic, gene regulation in development.

Selected Recent 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 expressioneLife, 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.  


Selected 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.

*Joint first authors

 ^Joint corresponding authors

Group Members 

Personal Website


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. 

Research supported by grants from:

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