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Sainsbury Laboratory


Renske Vroomans

Career Development Fellow

Sainsbury Laboratory
University of Cambridge
Bateman Street
Cambridge CB2 1LR


Dr Renske Vroomans is establishing a new research group at SLCU to study long-term processes in plant development using evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) models.

She is currently looking to recruit people to join her group and encourages anyone interested, from all science backgrounds, to contact her. Positions will be advertised on the SLCU and University of Cambridge websites in the near future.

The Vroomans Group studies the evolution of plant organs, like branches, roots and leaves over long evolutionary timescales. Using mathematical models to simulate millions of years of plant evolution, it is possible to study in detail how, over evolutionary time, the accumulation of mutations leads to new developmental programs that make new organs. This gives us a broader understanding of the evolutionary design principles behind plant development.

The growth of plant organs is governed by a developmental program. This developmental program consists of the interactions of many genes that infuence how the cells within a plant behave. As plants evolve, mutations may change the workings of their developmental program; many mutations lead to a malfunctioning plant, but some may lead to the appearance of a new organ. Once a new organ appears, it can be further altered by subsequent changes in the developmental program. By working with models the Group can rerun the evolutionary tape many times and under different conditions, to understand which selection pressures have contributed to shaping life-as-we-know-it. Such simulations allow us to understand very long-term evolutionary dynamics, e.g. by tracking the conservation, gain and loss of genes, pathways and developmental processes, and gives us an idea of the likelihood of evolutionary scenarios.

The Vroomans Group collaborates with other modelling and experimental labs, primarily within the Sainsbury laboratory, to ground these models in biological fact to study the evolutionary origins of several plant organs, including apical growth and branching, differentiated meristems, shoot-root axis and leaves.