Plant Physiology and Crop Improvement

The Group is concerned with how environmental and genetic factors affect the physiology of crops, their yield and quality.

In recent years, knowledge of crop growth has expanded rapidly using molecular techniques. The Group provides a link between these exciting areas and traditional crop physiology and considers their application to plant breeding for particular purposes.

In recent years, the Group has been responsible for conferences on topics as diverse as the links between genotype and phenotype, optimisation of water-use by plants in the Mediterranean and the role of crop quality in sustainable livestock production.


Group Members


Guy Barker

Guy is Director of the Genomics Resource Centre in the School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick. His academic interests include: Comparative genomics and genome organisation including exploring the genes and mechanisms underlying quality and other traits related to health and wellbeing. His other research interests include developing a novel approach for the recovery of bio-energy from ligno-cellulolytic waste, exploring the genes and mechanisms underlying fatty acid quality and utilising diversity within the gene pool to understand gene expression and regulation of biodiversity. He is involved in the ongoing international Brassica Genome Sequencing efforts funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and has further funding in the area of crop science and diet and health also funded by the BBSRC.

Guy is actively involved in science communication and has received awards from both the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Agriculture (Defra) and BBSRC for his public engagement work. He is a Member of the Academic advisory panel of the Chemistry Innovation Knowledge Transfer Network (CIKTN), Contributor to the Industrial Biotechnology, Innovation and Growth Team (IB-IGT) report and Sciencewise project looking at Public perceptions to Industrial Biotechnology which is continuing through further engagement with the UK department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Forum for the Future.

Guy recently participated in the Nuffield Council on Bioethics working party review on new approaches to biofuels.

Nigel Halford

Nigel is a Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at Rothamsted Research, Harpenden. Nigel studied the genes encoding a family of wheat seed proteins for his PhD while at Rothamsted Research in the 1980s, then spent 11 years at Long Ashton Research Station near Bristol before returning to the institute in 2002.

He is the author of more than 130 scientific papers, has written books on "Genetically Modified Crops", now in its second edition, and on "An Introduction to Bioenergy"; he has edited books on "Protein Phosphorylation in Plants", "Plant Biotechnology", and "Energy Crops". His research concerns the genetics of metabolic regulation in crop plants, how plant metabolism is affected by environmental stress and crop management, and how it can be manipulated to improve crop yield, quality, and food safety.


A major strategic application of this work is in reducing the potential for acrylamide formation in wheat, potato and rye products. Nigel is a visiting professor at Shanghai Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and he was awarded The Magnolia Silver Award by the Shanghai Municipal People's Government in 2012. He is also Special Professor at the University of Nottingham, a former member of the UK's Advisory Committee for Animal Feedingstuffs (ACAF), and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology.

Headshot_2020_Nirit Bernstein_web.jpg

Nirit Bernstein

Nirit is a senior scientist at Volcani Center, Israel, and a director of a  department at the Institute of Soil Water and Environmental Sciences. She a plant Physiologist, specializing in Plants stress physiology, and mineral nutrition of plants, and recently focuses on Physiology and Agronomy of medical Cannabis . Her current research projects on medical cannabis involve studies of response of cannabis to : Light, temperature,  fertilization and plant architecture;  conventional breeding and genome editing, and more. Nirit also teaches a graduate course at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on the topic of "Medical cannabis" as well as other two courses on "Mineral nutrition of higher plants".


Jim Monaghan

Jim is a Reader in the Department of Crop and Environment Sciences at the Harper Adams University. He is also the Director of the Fresh Produce Research Centre. His work is in the area of phenotyping and crop production systems, both pre and post harvest.


Simon Griffiths

Simon is a Project Leader at the John Innes Centre, Norwich. Simon studies height and flowering time in bread wheat and the genes which control the interaction between these traits to influence yield. His research undertakes large scale screening of wheat lines, using mapping techniques to identify QTL for traits of interest.

Simon uses field phenomics platforms to measure traits in real time under agricultural conditions and identifies markers targeted to specific environments. These are used to inform breeders of traits of interest alongside provision of pre-breeding germplasm.

  • QTL mapping of height, flowering time and yield in target environments

  • Genetic control of flowering time and duration in wheat

  • Field phenomics platforms for trait measurement in the field



Luke Bell

Luke is a Lecturer in Temperate Horticulture at the University of Reading.

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