Lancaster University crop scientist wins prestigious award for nutrition research

Marjorie Lundgren smiles at the camera with the inside of Lancaster Environment Centre in soft focus in the background

Leverhulme Early Career Fellow Dr Marjorie Lundgren has won the Rank Prize New Lecturer Award for her work seeking to improve photosynthesis in key crops around the world.

Dr Marjorie Lundgren, Lecturer in Plant Environmental Physiology, works to understand how photosynthetic systems evolve and is part of the influential Plant and Crop Science group in the Lancaster University Environment Centre.

Her work is focuses on novel approaches to improve crop yields by enhancing photosynthetic performance by looking to remarkable examples of photosynthetic diversity in nature.

Specifically, she is interested in engineering efforts to introduce more efficient modes of photosynthesis, like C2 and C4, into crops that use the common C3 type of photosynthesis, like rice. These efforts have largely focused on transferring C2 and C4 biochemistry, ultrastructure, and vein density traits into C3 crops. However, other important leaf anatomical traits may have been overlooked in these engineering programs. Recent studies in C3 plants have shown that the amount and patterning of airspace within leaves influences the movement of CO2 and water vapour and, as such, these traits may also be important components of C2 and C4 physiologies.

The Rank Prize New Lecturer award will enable her to address this fundamental knowledge gap. Using an ultra-modern x-ray microtomography (microCT) scanning approach in collaboration with the Nottingham Hounsfield MicroCT Facility, she will determine whether the patterning of leaf airspaces differs in closely related C3, C2, and C4 species in grain (Poaceae) and cruciferous vegetable (Brassicaceae) crop families. This work will be the first to clarify whether any changes to leaf airspace accompanied the evolution of new photosynthetic systems in these crop families.

She said: “I am honoured to win this prestigious award. These funds will provide a critical first look at the internal structure of plant leaves that evolved complex modes of photosynthesis.”

Professor Phil Barker, Director of the Lancaster Environment Centre said: “Marjorie’s work holds significant promise to contribute toward tangible food security efforts. This is a competitive and prestigious award and we are delighted to celebrate her much-deserved success.”

Part of the Photosynthesis Team at Lancaster, she earned her PhD in 2015 from the University of Sheffield and gained post-doctorate experience from the University of Sheffield, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.

Lord Rank was born in 1888, the son of Joseph Rank, a prominent Yorkshire mill owner. At the age of 17 he joined his father's flour milling business, in which he was employed throughout the early part of his life and later in life became a dominant figure in British films. The two areas of research covered by The Rank Prize Funds - on the one hand human and animal nutrition and crop husbandry and on the other optoelectronics - relate to the fields into which Lord Rank's career led him - flour milling and the film industry.

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