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Dr Devin O'Connor

Dr Devin O'Connor

Career Development Fellow

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

Office Phone: +44(0)1223 761100


Devin has always wanted to be a plant biologist.  After graduating with honours from Carleton College with a BA in biology, he spent a few years as a lab technician in plant labs across his home state of Colorado.  At the University of Colorado, Boulder, he solidified his love of plant Evo-Devo in the lab of Dr. Ned Friedman, now Director of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. At Colorado State, in the labs of Dr. Pat Bedinger and Dr. A.S.N Reddy, he fell in love with Confocal microscopy. Wanting a rigorous training in plant molecular genetics relevant to important crop species, Devin joined the lab of renowned maize geneticist Dr. Sarah Hake at the University of California, Berkeley, where he began his project on auxin transport in Brachypodium. After receiving his PhD in plant biology from UC Berkeley, he moved his family, his many boxes of Brachypodium seeds, and his project on PIN protein evolution to the lab of Sainsbury Lab Director Prof. Ottoline Leyser where Devin was a post-doc. In 2016 Devin started his own research group at the Sainsbury Lab as a Career Development Fellow. Devin continues to be passionate about plant biology, and while in Cambridge has been involved in many teaching and outreach activities, both in the Sainsbury Lab and in the neighbouring Cambridge University Botanic Gardens. 

Research Interests

The O’Connor group has three main goals. The first is to use a comparative approach, using both Arabidopsis and Brachypodium, to help determine how transport of the plant hormone auxin positions new plant organs and patterns new veins. The second is to determine to what extent changes in auxin-transport mediated patterning have had a role in morphological evolution, especially with respect to how monocot plants are different from eudicots. The third is to explore the genetic basis of leaf vein patterning and plasticity in order to help manage plant water use. To these ends we use phylogenetic analyses combined with comparative genetics and imaging in both Arabidopsis and  Brachypodium to explore gene family structure, protein expression domain, and protein function. Long-term we hope to be able to leverage developmental patterning mechanisms as a tool for crop improvement.  

Key Publications

O'Connor DL, Elton S, Ticchiarelli F, Hsia M, Vogel JP, Leyser OH. 2017. Cross-species functional diversity within the PIN auxin efflux protein family. eLife 2017;6:e31804 

Abraham Juárez MJ, Hernández Cárdenas R, Santoyo Villa JN, O’Connor D, Sluis A, Hake S, et al. Functionally different PIN proteins control auxin flux during bulbil development in Agave tequilana. J Exp Bot. 2015. doi:10.1093/jxb/erv191 

Bennett TA, Liu MM, Aoyama T, Bierfreund NM, Braun M, Coudert Y, Dennis RJ, O’Connor D, Wang XY, White CD, Decker EL, Reski R, Harrison CJ. Plasma membrane-targeted PIN proteins drive shoot development in a moss. Curr Biol. 2014;24: 2776–2785. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2014.09.054 

O'Connor DL, Runions A, Sluis A, Bragg J, Vogel JP, et al. (2014) A Division in PIN-Mediated Auxin Patterning during Organ Initiation in Grasses. PLoS Comput Biol 10(1): e1003447. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003447 

Bolduc N, O'Connor D, Moon J, Lewis M, Hake S (2012) How to Pattern a Leaf. Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology. doi:10.1101/sqb.2012.77.014613. 

Bolduc N, Yilmaz A, Mejia-Guerra MK, Morohashi K, O'Connor D, Grotewold E, Hake S. 2012. Unraveling the KNOTTED1 regulatory network in maize meristems. Genes Dev 26: 1685–1690.

Chuck G, O'Connor D. 2010. Small RNAs going the distance during plant development. Curr Opin Plant Biol 13: 40–45.

International Brachypodium Initiative. 2010. Genome sequencing and analysis of the model grass Brachypodium distachyon. Nature 463: 763–768.

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Twitter: @oconnord



Serial sections of PIN1a expression in the stem and vegetative leaves of maize.