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Robinson Group

Dr Sarah Robinson

Career Development Fellow

Sainsbury Laboratory 
University of Cambridge 
Bateman Street

Cambridge CB2 1LR



Research Group Interests

The Robinson Group uses a combination of novel biophysical tools, genetic manipulation and mathematical modelling to investigate how plant development (cell division and cell expansion) is controlled.

In plants the relationship between cell division and expansion is not clear. This is due to the rigid cell wall that surrounds the cells. Cell expansion requires the wall to extend and, therefore, depends upon how extensible it is and the forces that are acting on it, such as those due to turgor pressure. Cell expansion increases the size of the cell with little increase in biomass. On the other hand cells divide by adding more cell walls, increasing biomass with little increase in cell volume. Understanding this relationship may therefore enable us to improve the balance between plant size and biomass. This can be critical to optimise plants for biofuels, for which we want to maximise biomass for a given size.


Coupling ACME to a confocal enables the response of individual cells to be seen.

Cell wall impact on tissues

How cell division impacts cell expansion has been a subject of controversy for decades and has not yet been solved by either molecular or genetic approaches. The main reason for this is due to a lack of suitable measurement methods. Group Leader, Sarah Robinson developed an automated confocal micro-extensometer (ACME) that enables mechanical measurements to be made in 3D at the scale of the tissue but with cellular resolution. The Robinson Group is using ACME to determine the impact of new cell walls on the properties of the tissue.


Mechanical stress feedback

Feedback regulation by mechanical stress on development has recently re-emerged as an important mechanism for plant development. The Robinson Group are also assessing the relationship between the mechanical properties and cell division using ACME. This involves applying precise mechanical stress then inducing cell divisions and observing their orientation.


ACME enables images to be collected while precise forces are applied. The response of individual cells can be seen.
ACME robotic system

The Robinson Research Group utilises a robotic system developed by Dr Sarah Robinson, called ACME (automated confocal micro-extensometer) to measure the mechanical properties of plants in vivo (Robinson 2017 et al). ACME functions like a traditional extensometer, but is miniaturised, mounted on the stage of a confocal microscope, and fully automated.

ACME computes the mechanical properties of samples at the cellular level based on changes in features of the tissue itself (tracked in time-lapse z-stack images) during application of a known force or deformation.

There are a wide range of quantitative biophysical applications that the technology can be used for, including for analysis of the mechanical properties of developing plant organs.

Robinson Group Members