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Durham University

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Dr Peter Etchells

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Research Interests

I have a long-standing interest in plant developmental biology, which I developed while studying at the University of Edinburgh, and subsequently as a researcher at the University of Oxford, the John Innes Centre and at the University of Manchester.

My current research focuses on understanding how plant vascular tissue is formed. In vascular tissue, cell division and differentiation occurs in a highly ordered manner. These high levels of organization make plant vasculature an ideal model for studying mechanisms that control cell division and differentiation. The rates of cell division and differentiation are influenced by a range of developmental cues. My work aims to identify these cues and determine how they interact during development.

In addition to fundamental scientific questions surrounding the control of cell division and differentiation, understanding vascular tissue is of interest for crop improvement. Lodging due to stem breakage remains a problem in many crops. The vascular tissue, particularly the xylem, contains cells with large woody secondary cell walls that provide much of the plant stems mechanical strength, so modifying the developmental processes that lead to vascular specification has the potential to significantly improve yield.

Woody cell walls in the xylem are also rich in sugar polymers and constitute the majority of plant biomass. Ethanol derived from plant cell walls, known as cellulosic ethanol - so called second generation biofuels - gives a very favourable ratio of energy in to energy out with significant reductions in CO2 emissions. As vascular meristems are responsible for generating most of the plants biomass, an understanding of vascular development will provide markers for breeding of bioenergy crops, or enable modulation of vascular developmental pathways, using transgenic means to provide increased cellulosic bioethanol feedstock.

Research Groups

Department of Biosciences

Selected Publications

Chapter in book

  • Etchells, J. Peter & Turner, Simon R. (2009). Lateral Meristems. In Encyclopedia of Life Sciences. Wiley.

Edited book

  • de Lucas, Miguel & Etchells, J. Peter (2017). Xylem. Methods in Molecular Biology. Humana Press.

Journal Article

Other (Print)


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