LEC glasshouses

Plant and Crop Science

We combine cutting-edge research in plant science, from the molecular to the crop scale, working closely with research users.

With the global population expected to increase to 9 billion by 2050, there is a pressing need to secure access to sufficient safe and nutritious food for everyone. We combine cutting-edge research in plant science, from the molecular to the crop scale, with other disciplines in both the natural and social sciences. By working closely with research users, our research has a clear, practical focus on sustainable agriculture and so can help address the ecological, economic and social challenges facing crop production in a rapidly changing global environment. Hence, whilst the Plant & Crop Science group in LEC delivers excellent fundamental science, we have a particular strength in our ability to apply that research to provide solutions to real-world problems, particularly in relation to sustainable agriculture and food security.

Plant and crop

Plant-Environment Interactions

LEC has a long-standing strength in plant abiotic stress tolerance. Our research on plant responses to water availability ranges from stomatal physiology to long distance phytohormonal signalling of drought stress and is applied via development of irrigation techniques that improve “crop per drop”. The group also has expertise in molecular and whole plant responses to ozone, a damaging atmospheric pollutant. Research on plant nutrient acquisition includes regulation of root architecture and spectroscopic monitoring of plant health. There is also a strong focus on wheat productivity, where LEC staff are undertaking projects combining field phenotyping and next generation genetics to uncover markers, genes and the biology underlying yield and stress tolerance.

Pest and disease control

Our research on pest and disease control focuses on identifying alternative approaches to crop protection that can reduce reliance on chemical pesticides. This includes the development of novel, non-invasive methods for diagnosis, exploiting plant induced resistance, and manipulating herbivore-natural enemy interactions for biological control. At a fundamental level, we are working to determine the molecular basis of “stress memory” in plants and its impacts on future defence responses, and to uncover the roles of plant volatile organic compounds as signalling molecules. More applied research includes the development of seed priming techniques that enhance pest resistance, new types of cladding plastics for protected crop production, and biopesticide production.

Plant and crop


Crop productivity depends on photosynthesis to fix atmospheric carbon into useful sugars that fuel plant growth and development. LEC crop scientists are working to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis as a route to sustainable, increased agricultural productivity. Their research targets the key C-fixing enzyme, Rubisco, the biochemistry of C assimilation, and biotechnological approaches to introduce C-concentrating mechanisms from photosynthetic micro-organisms into crop plants.

Light signalling

Light is not only important for photosynthesis, but is used by plants to regulate many aspects of the growth and development and their biochemistry. Research in LEC includes fundamental work to understand the mechanisms of visible and ultra violet light sensing and signalling, interactions between light and temperature signalling, and the use of light spectral manipulation to enhance crop production.

Plant communities and climate change

As well as conducting basic plant science, the Plant & Crop Science group work closely with colleagues with interests in soil science and plant and soil ecology to study nutrient capture and cycling (especially C, N and P), biodiversity and ecosystem service provision in agricultural settings, contributing to LEC’s strength in multidisciplinary approaches to sustainable agriculture and environmental management.

Plant and crop


Research within the Plant and Crop Sciences is supported by modern laboratories for molecular biology, cell biology and plant physiology. Specialised equipment includes:

  • Infra-red gas analysers, equipment for plant water relations research, including whole plant pressure chambers and various chromatography systems (HPLC, GC, LC-MS).
  • We have a unique robotic microphenotyping platform that was developed with BBSRC funding, for high-throughput chemical biology applications, especially those seeking to understand or modify root development.

Plant growth facilities include:

  • 15 naturally lit (but with supplementary lighting) greenhouse compartments (each comprising 9 m2 growing space),
  • 10 walk-in controlled environment rooms (each comprising 6 m2 growing space) and 6 high specification growth cabinets (each comprising 3 m2 growing space),
  • Specialist controlled environment growth cabinets for photobiology  research, with monochromatic R/FR/B light and temperature control,
  • Ozone fumigation chambers and UV radiation facilities.
  • Field work is undertaken at nearby Myerscough College (where plastic houses act as rainout shelters).