Dale Sanders is a microbiologist whose work focuses on the mechanisms of heavy metal and calcium transport in plants and the physiological signals that trigger these processes. His research has significantly influenced our understanding of the potential sources of toxins within our food.
All cellular organisms, including plants, react to changes in their environment. Dale’s work demonstrated that many plants respond to stimuli — an attack by a pathogen or a decrease in temperature, for example — through calcium signalling. He also discovered the TPC1 gene in Arabidopsis, which encodes a calcium transport channel, helping to further elucidate the mechanisms of calcium signalling in plants.
Many transition metals, such as zinc, copper and iron, are essential for life. However, in larger quantities these become toxic, as do heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury. Therefore, Dale is studying how plants draw in the correct amounts for their nutritional needs whilst ensuring they do not accumulate to toxic levels. This has a knock-on effect for human health since such metals can build up further along the food chain.