The hidden half of plant biology has been an enduring interest throughout my research career. Over the last two decades I have led efforts to characterise key regulatory signals, genes and mechanisms that control root growth and development. Highlights include identifying the first auxin transport protein described in plants AUX1 (Bennett et al, 1996); demonstrating that hormones regulate root growth by targeting one (and not all) tissues (Swarup et al, 2005; Ubeda-Tomas et al, 2008); developing quantitative reporters to visualise hormone gradients in roots (Brunoud et al, 2012; Larrieu et al, 2015); and discovering novel mechanisms regulating root angle and branching (Band et al, 2012; Swarup et al, 2008).
Over the last decade I have increasingly embraced interdisciplinary approaches after recognising that major breakthroughs are more likely to arise at the interface between, rather than within, disciplines. To facilitate this vision, in 2007 I helped establish the BBSRC/EPSRC Centre for Plant Integrative Biology (CPIB) and currently serve as its Director. As an example of the value an interdisciplinary research approach can provide, I have led efforts at CPIB to non-invasively image roots in soil. A BBSRC Professorial Research Fellowship (2010) and ERC Advanced Investigator (2012) awards have helped fund the creation of a new multidisciplinary research facility to achieve this goal. The Hounsfield CT Facility represents a unique root phenotyping platform employing robotics, X-ray CT scanners and novel image analysis software which we are employing to help understand which root trait(s) determine water and nutrient use efficiency in crops. Recent highlights include characterising new and existing root adaptive mechanisms to water availability such as hydropatterning and hydrotropism (Bao et al, 2014; Dietrich et al, in prep).
To date, I have published >150 research papers and review articles about root growth and development and am ranked as one of the 100 most highly cited animal and plant biologists. As a result of these research activities I have received several awards including a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award (2013) and was recently elected a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) (2014).