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Cathie Martin
Department of Metabolic Biology
Cathie Martin

I am a group leader at the John Innes Centre, the leading plant research institute in Europe and Professor at the University of East Anglia. My interests span from fundamental to applied plant science. My fundamental research has focused on cellular specialisation and I was the first to identify genes regulating cell shaping in plants. I am particularly interested in cellular specialization in flowers (colour and cell shape) and how these traits are used by different plants for pollinator attraction. 

Recently I have been co-ordinating research into the relationship between diet and health and how crops can be fortified to improve diets and address the global challenge of escalating chronic disease. This work has involved linking leading clinical and epidemiological researchers with plant breeders and metabolic engineers to develop scientific understanding of how diet can help to maintain health, lead to healthy ageing and reduce the risk of chronic disease.  I have also been involved in developing genetic screens to identify crops which lack toxins that cause nutritional diseases such as konzo.

I was Editor-in-Chief of The Plant Cell from 2008 to 2015, through which I piloted new features in scientific publishing, including Teaching Tools in Plant Biology. I am now an Associate Editor of Plant Physiology in the area of plant specialised metabolism. I am co-author of the undergraduate-level text book: Plant Biology published by Garland Science (2009).

To ensure that our messages about healthy eating reach consumers, I co-founded a spin-out company, Norfolk Plant Sciences, with Professor Jonathan Jones. We are working to secure the impact of our research on phytonutrients that confer improved health and reduced risk of chronic disease through food products designed to be good for consumers. Together with Eugenio Butelli, we won the BBSRC prize for most promising innovator of 2014. We invested the prize money in founding a second spin-out - Persephone Bio - with a focus on developing plant extracts for improved cosmetic products.

Recent videos/presentations

  • Good things derived from colours in flowers and fruit
  • Landing lights for Bumblebees
  • Good things derived from colours in flowers and fruit
  • Natural Products

Purple Tomatoes and Blood Oranges

Plants contain a huge array of natural chemical compounds and some of them are increasingly seen as ‘natural medicines’ able to provide protection against human chronic diseases. We are particularly interested in phenolic compounds present in fruit and vegetables and also considered to be the main ‘active ingredients’ of many ‘super foods’ and ‘super drinks’.

Being a purple tomato: a story of colour and health

Using purple, high-anthocyanin tomatoes we have shown that their inclusion in the diet of cancer-prone mice can extend life-span by 30% (Butelli et al, 2008), and this has resulted in world-wide recognition that anthocyanins are important health-promoting dietary constituents.

More on Purple Tomatoes

We have also investigated the Sicilian blood orange as a unique natural citrus variety with high levels of fruit-specific anthocyanins.

More on Blood Oranges


For further information, the following two presentations are available to view online

Cathie Martin & Katharina Bulling – “Being a purple tomato: a story of colour and health” (33 mins)

Cathie Martin – “Engineering plant metabolism for healthy foods” (57 mins)



Landing lights for Bumblebees

Gardeners could help maintain bumblebee populations by growing plants with red flowers or flowers with stripes along the veins, according to field observations of the common snapdragon, Antirrhinum majus, at the John Innes Centre in the UK. Bees are important pollinators of crops as well as the plants in our gardens

Good things derived from colours in flowers and fruit

Cathie Martin, project leader at the JIC, talks about her 27 years in plant science research.

Good things derived from colours in flowers and fruit

Click to view presentation (26 mins - opens in new window)

Natural Products

Plants and microbes produce a wide spectrum of natural products, which give them their huge range of colours, flavours and scents. These chemicals are used to repel pests, diseases or competitors or to attract pollinators, but for humans they represent a potential source of new medicines, flavourings, antimicrobials or other useful compounds. A major area of study at the John Innes Centre is in understanding how and why plants and microbes make these natural products. With this knowledge, we are looking at ways of exploiting them to help maintain our health, to improve crops plants and to maintain a safe, nutritious food supply.

Professor Anne Osbourn leads a research group investigating the structure, function and evolution of natural products, in particular in crop and model plants.

Professor Cathie Martin's research background is in cellular specialisation; in particular how flower colour and shape is determined. More recently she has been investigating how crops can be improved by manipulating the natural products that they produce.