Research Fellows Directory
Professor Alistair Hetherington
University of Bristol
I work on how plants adapt to a changing environment. To investigate this I study the pores on the surfaces of leaves known as stomata. These act as valves that regulate the uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere (for photosynthesis) and the loss of water vapour from the plant (important in cooling, nutrient acquisition and the ability to withstand drought). Environmental signals, e.g. light, CO2, relative humidity and plant hormones such as abscisic acid control the aperture of the stomatal pore and how many pores develop on the leaf surfaces. The stomatal pore is surrounded by two specialised cells known as guard cells, when these swell the pore gapes open and when they lose turgor the valve closes. The guard cell is a test-bed for understanding the cellular aspects of how plant cells respond to environment change. Our work suggests that environmental signals close stomata by accessing a common intracellular signalling pathway that involves an increase in the intracellular concentration of calcium. The calcium ion is a ubiquitous component in intracellular signalling in plants and animals and we are also interested in the evolution of this system. There are thousands of stomata on the surface of the leaf and the final area that is attracting our interest at the moment is understanding how, and the extent to which, changes in stomatal aperture are co-ordinated across the surface of the leaf.
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