The hidden half of plant biology has been an enduring interest throughout Malcolm's 20 year research career at Nottingham. His team has characterised many of the regulatory signals, genes and mechanisms that control root growth, development and adaptations to their soil environment. Highlights include identifying the first transport protein described in plants for the hormone auxin termed AUX1 which controls root angle (Bennett et al, 1996, Science); and elucidating how roots preferentially grow towards or branch towards water availability using hydrotropism (Dietrich et al, 2017, Nature Plants) and hydropatterning responses (Orosa-Puente et al, 2018, Science).
Over the past decade, Malcolm has embraced a systems biology approach to study root development, helping establish the BBSRC/EPSRC Centre for Plant Integrative Biology (CPIB) at Nottingham. Highlights include elucidating how hormones like auxin control root growth and branching (Band et al, 2012, PNAS; Swarup et al, 2008, Nature Cell Biology). His team is currently translating knowledge about the genes and signals regulating key root traits such as angle, depth and branching to re-engineer root architecture in crops and improve sustainability and yields (Huang et al, 2018, Nature Comms).
To uncover new traits determining water and nutrient use efficiency in crops, Malcolm and colleagues in Biosciences, Maths, Engineering and Computer Sciences have pioneered efforts to non-invasively image roots in soil. They have created the Hounsfield Facility (https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/microct/), an unique X-ray based root imaging platform integrating robotics, microCT scanners and analysis software. Research highlights include imaging novel root adaptive responses in soil termed Xerobranching and Hydropatterning, where roots only branch when in contact with water (Orman et al, 2018, Current Biology; Bao et al, 2014, PNAS).
Malcolm has published over 200 research papers and review articles about root growth and development and is ranked in the top 1% most highly cited animal and plant biologists. His research activities have attracted several awards including a Royal Society Wolfson Research Fellowship (2013) and election as a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO; 2014) and Fellow of the Royal Society (2020).
EMBO Member; Fellow of the Royal Society; Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology; Fellow of the Royal Academy (Belgium)