Dr Crystal Sweetman

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As plants are sessile, they must be able to continue normal growth and development under potentially harsh environmental conditions. Plant cell metabolism is therefore tightly regulated and responsive to internal end external stimuli.

Cellular homeostasis is altered during plant growth and development, or upon exposure of a plant to biotic or abiotic stressors. For example, the initiation of ripening in a grape berry is characterised by a series of biochemical and physiological changes, including changes in hormone levels, accumulation of water and sugars, loss of organic acids, as well as cell wall softening and accumulation of pigments. Meanwhile, basic metabolic acitivities must continue to ensure cell survival. Another example is the exposure of a cereal crop to extreme heat or salinity, which can lead to dramatic changes in leaf and root physiology and flowering patterns, as well as cellular-level changes in ion transport and primary respiratory pathways.

All of these changes are brought about through altered cellular metabolic activities, enabling appropriate growth and development for passing genetic material to the next generation, and enabling endurance during tough conditions. However there is a limit to the stress that a plant can endure. My research interest is to further understand how plant cells respond to stresses brought about by developmental and environmental cues, with a particular focus on the primary respiratory pathways of plant mitochondria. Altering the way that these pathways respond to internal and external stimuli could enhance plant performance during harsh conditions, and improve plant growth and development in the face of global food shortages.


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