Dr Jordi Chan

Postdoctoral Scientist Genes in the Environment

Seeing inside plant cells and how growth is controlled is amazing and raises many questions.

Inside each cell are many hollow tubes, known as microtubules, aligned parallel to each other, each with a diameter one thousandth of a human hair.

Microtubules grow or shrink – while streams of tiny nano machines, known as cellulose synthases, move along them. The nano machines extrude fibres to the outside of the cell into the cell wall. These cellulose fibres have the tensile strength of steel. It is their patterns that determine the shape and strength of cells, and, thus, make a fundamental contribution to development and the quality of plant products.

Jordi is interested in understanding the fundamental principles behind how this system is controlled.

Another hidden feature of cells that controls growth and which may influence the system described above is polarity. Cells can appear uniform, but their contents tend to be organised in an asymmetric manner.

Polarity arises from the accumulation of certain molecules at one end of the cell and not the other. These polarity molecules can be coordinated so, that in a tissue, all cells have the polarity molecules at the same end. This collective behaviour is called tissue polarity, and this may be used to orient growth of the tissue.

Jordi is working on the hypothesis that polarity is important for steering growth, through regulating interactions with microtubules and cellulose synthases.