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Durham University

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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

Plants respond to abiotic stress by making physiological and metabolic changes that help them survive further stress. Many of these changes are brought about by transcriptional reprogramming My research focusses on the molecular mechanisms that bring about freezing tolerance in plants and the regulation of genes that protect plants against low temperature and other forms of abiotic stress. We have been elucidating the roles of a number of genes in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana that determine the plant’s level of tolerance to freezing stress. One of these genes, sensitive-to-freezing6 (SFR6) encodes a component of the Mediator transcriptional coactivator complex, and is essential for the transcriptional response to low temperature that protects plants from freezing. My lab showed that specificity in plant Mediator function (the ability of the complex to “choose” which genes it switches on) is implemented through distinct individual subunit roles and we published work describing the molecular mechanism that allows this to happen (Hemsley et al, 2014). Recently we identified SFR8 as a gene that governs freezing tolerance by influencing cell wall structure (Panter et al., 2019) and ongoing research is elucidating a role for this gene in desiccation tolerance. Currently we are working with Dr Gabriele Sosso and Dr Tom Whale in Warwick University to elucidate the relationship between plant cell wall composition and ice formation in plant tissues 

Research Groups

Department of Biosciences

Research Interests

  • Plant freezing tolerance
  • Plant stress responses
  • Transcriptional regulation
  • Plant Cell wall
  • Mechanical properties of plant cells

Indicators of Esteem

  • 2018: Invited lecture in Beijing: Invited to give a lecture at China Agriculture University in Beijing.
  • 2018: Invited speaker UNAM, Mexico: Invited to present a seminar at Dept of Biochemistry, UNAM, Mexico City
  • 2017: Appointed as external Examiner, Salford: External Examiner for Masters in Biotechnology, University of Salford
  • 2012: Elected member of GARNet advisory Committee (2012-2015):

    Elected to serve on the GARNet Committee to represent the interests of the Araidopsis research community.

    Invited (With Dr Kerry Franklin of Bristol University) by the Society for Experimental Biology to run a session entitled “Plant temperature responses: shaping development and enhancing survival?” at the SEB’s Annual meeting in Florence, July 2018.

Selected Publications

Chapter in book

Journal Article

Show all publications


Selected Grants

  • 2012: Control of Specificity in gene expression (£172188.00 from The Leverhulme Trust)
  • 2012: Identification of genes essential for freezing tolerance as targets for manipulation in crops (CO-I)
  • 2009: BBSRC, “Identifying components of the SFR6 pathway controlling cold acclimation and drought tolerance”, £343,034.07 (as PI).
  • 2006: BBSRC ‘Crosstalk between cold and light signalling pathways in Arabidopsis thaliana’, £228k, (as co-applicant).
  • 2003: BBSRC ‘The mechanism of action of SFR6, a key regulator of gene expression and cold acclimation’, £196k, (as recognised researcher).
  • 2002: BBSRC ‘The molecular basis of low temperature perception and calcium signalling in Arabidopsis’, £244k, (as co-applicant).
  • 2001: BBSRC ‘Molecular basis for discrimination between drought and cold in Arabidopsis’, £202k, (as co-applicant).