Students Staff

Plant Productivity Group

Chlorophyll fluorescence image of Arabidopsis sprayed with DCMU

Chlorophyll fluorescence image of Arabidopsis sprayed with DCMU

The demands of a growing world population for food and fuel are putting greater pressure on the need for higher yielding crop varieties that do not rely on a high input and demand of chemicals or water.

We respond to this challenge by taking a whole organism approach to identify key genes and processes that determine productivity in plants in constantly changing environmental conditions.

Uniquely we have the capacity to place our research in a real world socio-economic context, ensuring we are dealing with issues of global importance. We are a group of academics supported by a lively team of research technicians, postdoctoral researchers and research students, who create a stimulating collaborative and dynamic research environment.

Funding and facilities

Our group’s research focuses on understanding and improving plants processes that determine plant productivity and plant responses to changing environmental conditions. We have an extensive network of national and international collaborations through projects funded by the BBSRC, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, EU, Leverhulme Trust, Perry Foundation and industry.

We have considerable expertise in the investigation of the growth and physiology of plants under both benign and stressful conditions in the laboratory and the field. This is underpinned by a considerable and continual investment in our specialised research facilities. Consequently, we have state-of-the art equipment for our research, including bespoke instrumentation and software designed and built in-house.

Our facilities include a plant phenotyping platform that houses a novel dynamic lighting system, combined thermal and chlorophyll fluorescence as well as whole plant gas exchange chambers.

Working with business

We are united around understanding the physiological and genetic basis of crop yield. Collectively we have a great deal of knowledge and experience in Plant Science, which extends to understanding how technology fits into the development of more environmentally sustainable production systems.

We offer many ways for you to access our expertise, including consultancy, collaborative and commissioned research and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.

These are some of the current and recently completed projects and programmes which are collaborative with and sponsored by industry:

  • Forestry research - Forestry Commission (Forest Research)
  • Crop improvement - Bayer Ltd
  • LED lighting technologies - TAS valley mushrooms
  • Technology development - ADC Ltd
  • Gene technology - Syngenta Ltd

Example case for SMEs

The EU funded project ABSTRESS is identifying genes that control responses to combined drought stress and Fusarium oxysporum infection in legumes. This involves working with our partner SMEs to fast track genes discovered in a model legume, Medicago truncatula, to field testing of mutated gene orthologs in non-GM peas and be candidates to enter EU-wide breeding programmes. Our partner SMEs are GenXPro (Germany), PGRO (UK), Arterra Bioscience (Italy), AgroVegetal (Spain), AgriTec (Czech Republic) and BTG (Italy).

Fellowship Opportunities

The Plant Productivity Group would like to invite Expressions of Interest from postdoctoral researchers of any nationality (at any career stage) to apply for a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship. We are looking to support a small number of high-quality applications under the new round and would welcome expressions of interest from interested researchers.

Contact us

Please contact Dr Beverley Wilkinson, Research Services and Projects Manager ( if you are interested in working with us.

Our academic members

  • Professor Tracy Lawson (group convenor)

    Tracy LawsonPlant physiology, photosynthesis and productivity, stomatal behaviour, plant phenotyping, emerging technologies in ecophysiology.

  • Dr Ulrike Bechtold

    Ulrike BechtoldInvestigates abiotic stress and sugar signalling, systems biology and genetic mapping as tools for gene discovery, identification and evaluation of novel genes important in stress signalling and plant growth

  • Dr Matt Jones

    Matt JonesBiological Timing and Signalling: Pathways and genes that optimize plants’ growth and productivity in a response to daily patterns of environmental stress.

  • Professor Phil Mullineaux

    Phil MullineauxSignalling, regulatory networks and genes that govern growth, defence and productivity of plants in response to abiotic stress and changing environments.

  • Professor Jules Pretty

    Jules PrettySustainable intensification of agriculture and crop production, environmental services, social capital and implementation of sustainability, policies for greener economies.

  • Professor Christine Raines

    Christine RainesPhotosynthetic carbon assimilation understanding regulation of this pathway and the manipulation of leaf carbon metabolism to improve photosynthesis and yield.

MSc Biotechnology

Bio-tech researcher

Our MSc Biotechnology provides you with the knowledge, understanding and hands-on experience in modern biotechnology. With practical insights into current commercial applications. It creates access to a broad range of career opportunities in this rapidly growing key technology.

Postgraduate study


Postgraduate study with us gives you the chance to contribute to the research we are renowned for. You can expect specialist training in a research-intensive and supportive environment from top academics using state-of-the-art facilities.

PG funding

Postgraduate funding

We offer scholarships and bursaries to talented postgraduates, ranging from research council studentships and University of Essex scholarships to awards funded by charities and other external organisations.

Women in science

Athena SWAN bronze award logo

We are proud to have achieved the Athena SWAN Bronze Departmental Award in November 2014, recognising our commitment to promoting a positive and inclusive environment for our community of students and staff.