Prof Robert Sablowski

Head of Department
Cell and Developmental Biology

Robert’s research into the genetic control and cell biology of the meristem explores how regulatory genes and pathways affect plant morphology.

He uses microscopy techniques alongside quantitative image analysis and statistical methodologies to reveal the influence of individual genes on pathways that control meristem development.

This research has identified regulatory mechanisms linking meristem size, plant architecture and seed yield, which will allow future selection of higher yielding crop plants.

  • Genetic and cell biology of the plant meristem
  • Regulatory pathways controlling meristem development, plant architecture and crop yield
  • Quantitative image analysis and statistical methodologies


Meristems and mutant cauliflowers

Plants recurrently produce new organs and tissues at the apical meristems. The arrangement and growth of these primordia establish plant architecture, which in crops is key to productivity. Robert's lab focuses on the genetics and cell biology of the meristem and organ primordia in the model plant species, Arabidopsis thaliana and in related crop species (Brassica spp).

One of the questions they investigate is how the plant stem is formed at the shoot apex. Stem development is particularly important for crop performance: the height and sturdiness of the stem affect the likelihood that plants fall over in bad weather, how much of the plant’s resources can be directed to making fruits and seeds, and how easy it is to harvest them. They're using a combination of quantitative imaging, genetics and genome-wide association mapping to understand how stem development is regulated and to reveal novel genes that can be used to modify stem architecture. 

At a more fundamental level, Robert's group want to understand how genes cause organs to grow to a specific shape and size. To answer this question, we use quantitative, 3D analysis of cell geometry and cell cycle progression to study the function of growth regulatory genes such as JAGGED (JAG). They've found, for example, that JAG sculpts floral organs by directly repressing genes that control entry into DNA replication.

One of the current priorities in developmental biology is to develop computer models that can simulate and predict the way organs and organisms grow. Addressing the questions above will be essential for connecting these models with molecular mechanisms that can be controlled experimentally. Ultimately, this knowledge will allow rational modification of plant organ growth and crop performance.

Peeling back the layers: scientists use new techniques to uncover hidden secrets of plant stem development

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Pixelated plants shed light on cell size control

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UK-Brazil plant science workshop sparks ideas for joint research

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Recent Publications

Serrano-Mislata A., Sablowski R. (2018)

The pillars of land plants: new insights into stem development

Current Opinion in Plant Biology 45 p11-17

Publisher’s version: 10.1016/j.pbi.2018.04.016

Serrano-Mislata A., Bencivenga S., Bush M., Schiessl K., Boden S., Sablowski R. (2017)

DELLA genes restrict inflorescence meristem function independently of plant height.

Nature plants Aug 21 2017 pdoi: 10.1038/s41477-017-0003-y

Publisher’s version: 10.1038/s41477-017-0003-y

Bencivenga S., Serrano A., Bush M., Fox S., Sablowski R. (2016)

Control of oriented tissue growth through repression of organ boundary genes promotes stem morphogenesis

Developmental Cell 39 p198-208

Publisher’s version: 10.1016/j.devcel.2016.08.013

Sablowski R. (2016)

Coordination of plant cell growth and division: collective control or mutual agreement?

Current Opinion in Plant Biology 34 p54-60

Publisher’s version: 10.1016/j.pbi.2016.09.004

Sablowski R. (2016)

Coordination of plant cell growth and division: collective control or mutual agreement?

Current Opinion in Plant Biology 34 p54-60

Publisher’s version: 10.1016/j.pbi.2016.09.004

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Robert Sablowski


Meristems and mutant caluiflowers

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