Plant evolution may hold the key to a new generation of food resources, according to Dr Juliet Coates in a video interview with us. She knows what she’s talking about — she runs the Coates Lab at the University of Birmingham.
Understanding plant evolution, how plants got to the way they are, remains one of the most seriously under-investigated areas of modern biology. It’s important we do know because growing enough crops in the right places to sustain the world’s population is becoming increasingly challenging. Many of the new scientific tools that enable us to understand how bacteria, yeasts and animals work at the molecular level, including genetic engineering, can now be used to understand plant biology too.
In Dr Coates’ research group, they try to understand at the molecular level how plant cells integrate information to form a many-celled plant with specific tissues and a certain form. They focus particularly on the development of the root system, and certain families of proteins that control it. They also study “ancient” land plants that they hope will tell us more about how more complex plants evolved. They collaborate with other research groups that work on root development and with groups that study relatives of our plant proteins that control the life cycle of the malaria parasite.