I am fascinated by the fact that we do not understand the natural systems that support terrestrial life, but that we take them for granted. Food and water are the basic human requirements yet upward trends in consumption are at odds with declining capacity for supply. There is good evidence that we have about 20 years to adopt more sustainable approaches or face an unprecedented global scale crisis. Now focusing on systems approaches to agriculture I am studying the integrated behaviour of the soil-microbe system and have shown that the interaction between biological and physical components results in the system behaving like a single self-organising ‘biomaterial’. I am extending these ideas to include the evolutionary ecology of the microbial community, particularly fungi, to understand how the system can be optimally managed to meet future demands of higher efficiency and lower inputs. I am interested in the link between intra-specific variation and community structure and function and have developed the first individual-based model for plant community structure and function that integrates geneflow and seedbank dynamics with a physiologically-based description of plant growth. I am now developing this approach to study the interaction between above and below-ground processes in the soil-plant-microbe-atmosphere system to explore the internal regulatory pathways in the system. Finally, over the past 12 years I have been developing a systems biology approach to study the dynamics of plant cell networks implicated in metabolism, and the regulatory networks involved in diseases of the cell cycle in humans including cancer. I am interested in extending these approaches to study epigenetic processes in cells i.e. hereditary changes in cells that do not originate from changes in the cells DNA, which can play an important role in promoting desirable behaviour in plants.
Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (FRSE)
Fellow of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (FIMA)