Striga hermonthica attached to one of its hosts, Sorghum.

Photograph by Peter M.

Brief curriculum vitae

As an undergraduate of the University of Dundee (‘84-88), studying Botany and Zoology in the Department of Biological Sciences, I was fortunate to be taught by *Professors Philip Corbet (calm, entomology, dragonflies), John Raven (so much), Bill Stewart (nitrogen fixation, slides of his sabbatical in Australia!), Janet Sprent (plant physiology, nodulation in legumes), and Drs Hugh Ingram (plant ecology, mires), Allan Jones (marine biology), Steve Hubbard (animal ecology, entomology, parasitology), Jonathan Weyers (plant physiology, stomatal physiology), Brian Eddy (osmoregulation, fish physiology), Roy Oliver (hair! and developmental biology), John Riley (Pentastomids, immunology), and countless others at the top of their fields. The University of Dundee had a fine reputation and that has grown, but back when the Department of Biochemistry simply sat adjacent to the Department of Biological Sciences, before the later was effectively subsumed into the former, the Department of Biological Sciences contained a remarkably talented and international renowned faculty, almost all of whom were excellent teachers!

I carried out my Ph.D. with George R Stewart in the Department of Biology, University College London from 1988-91, investigating seed germination of the hemi-parasitic angiosperm, Striga hermonthica. My first research paper described experiments investigating whether, or not, Sorghum host-derived root exudates** stimulate Striga seed germination by stimulating ethylene biosynthesis by the Striga seed, we concluded that they** do. A subsequent paper showed that other chemical triggers of Striga germination, including synthetic strigolactones**, acted via ethylene biosynthesis.

*Titles at the time (1984-88).

**Host-derived root exudate was a simply derived, but chemically complex, aqueous wash of Sorghum roots, better in keeping with the natural situation than using a pure strigolactone (I thought). I’ve always preferred to keep experiments as natural as possible, that’s why my research focus is real-time in vivo imaging. I’m still simply an ecologist, just at a different scale.

My first post-doctoral contract, at what was then HRI East Malling, Kent UK,  centred on an analysis of endomembrane Ca2+-ATPases. This was followed by a second postdoctoral fellowship at INRA-CNRS-ENSA, Montpellier, France where the group were the first to take a proteomics approach to studying the plant plasma membrane. 

I started working on mitochondria in 1996 when I was appointed as a postdoctoral fellow in Chris Leaver’s research group in the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford.  Frustrated with having to deal with dead mitochondria (TEM), or ground up cells for my studies of mitochondrial «biogenesis», in 1996 I came up with the idea of making the mitos fluorescent with GFP. And on that idea I built a career, but only after messing things up a bit by quitting when ahead.

This involved resigning from my postdoc early to join the UK Civil Service within the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (now superseded by DEFRA), as deputy head of a unit with a research portfolio covering horticultural crops, plant health, plant variety rights, and genetic resources.  I left the civil service to resume my research career in 2000. I wrote three successive BBSRC grants at the University of St Andrews which allowed me to continue, independently, the research on mitochondrial dynamics that I had started in Oxford.

In 2008 I left the University of St Andrews to become an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, Canada.

I left the UofS in September 2012 to take up my new position as professeur des universités at the Université d’Angers in the Loire valley, France. The contrasts between Saskatchewan and Pays de la Loire, and between Saskatoon and Angers could not be greater. Vive la différence!

For an example, click here to see my walk to work.

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