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Durham University

Department of Biosciences

Staff Profile

Dr Heather Knight, B.Sc. (Hons.), Ph.D.

Associate Professor in the Department of Biosciences
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 43215

Contact Dr Heather Knight (email at

Research Interests

My research interests focus around the molecular basis of plant freezing tolerance. Many plants from temperate parts of the world respond to a lowering of the ambient temperature during autumn, allowing them to make metabolic and physiological changes that protect them from subsequent winter freezing conditions. This program of changes is known as “cold acclimation” and understanding the molecular mechanisms involved will provide potential routes to improving the freezing tolerance trait in crops. We have identified a number of freezing tolerance genes and our work focuses on elucidating the mechanisms whereby the proteins they encode protect plants against sub-zero conditions. Much of the focus of our work has been on the sfr6 mutant of Arabidopsis, which fails to cold acclimate to freezing temperatures. This mutant shows a dramatic loss in cold-inducible gene expression and a consequent failure to accumulate proteins that protect the plant from frost. The SFR6 gene encodes a component (MED16) of the Mediator transcriptional coactivator complex, a multi-protein assembly that activates specific patterns of stress gene transcription. We have shown that MED16 plays a role not only in the regulation of cold-inducible gene expression but in the transcriptional response to other abiotic stresses and endogenous signals. Our research includes investigation of how MED16 along with other Mediator subunits and auxiliary proteins controls these responses.

Research Groups

  • Durham Centre for Crop Improvement Technology
  • Molecular Plant Sciences


Research Interests

  • Low temperature responses in plants
  • Plant stress responses
  • Transcriptional regulation

Selected Publications

Chapter in book

Journal Article

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