Group members

Julian established his laboratory in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge in 2001. Since then, nine post-doctoral researchers, thirteen PhD students, and three research assistants have been part of the lab. The group is currently 10-strong. Read more about them below.


Julian Hibberd

Julian did his PhD with John Farrar and Bob Whitbread at Bangor University. He then moved to post-doctoral positions with Julie Scholes, Paul Quick and Malcolm Press in Sheffield, and then John Gray in Cambridge. He started his own group in Cambridge while holding a BBSRC Sir David Phillips Fellowship. His interests in plant biology have focussed on various aspects of photosynthesis.

Julian has more recently become interested in using natural variation to improve our understanding of complex traits. He is a team leader within both the C4 Rice Project, and the EU 3to4 FP7 programme, and represents the photosynthesis and metabolism community on the Plant Section committee of the Society of Experimental Biology. He is also an Associate Editor of Plant Physiology, and from 2011-2014 was a member of the BBSRC Responsive Mode Grants panel.


Current members

Post-Doctoral Research Associates

Steven Burgess

Steven graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a BSc in Biochemistry in 2007. From 2007-2011 he undertook a PhD at Imperial College London investigating the use of RNAi as a means of remodelling metabolic pathways in the model alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii for biofuel production.

In 2011 he moved to the University of Cambridge, and is currently investigating the evolution of cis-regulatory networks controlling cell-specific gene expression in C4 plants.

Sarah Covshoff

Sarah graduated with a B.Sc. in Agriculture from the University of Guelph (Canada). She then obtained a Ph.D. in Plant Biology from Cornell University, where she studied differentiation of the maize C4 leaf.

Sarah joined the lab in 2008 as part of the C4 Rice project and is working on the molecular engineering of C4 photosynthesis in rice and to identify genes necessary and/or sufficient for C4 photosynthesis form and function.

Marek Szecowka

Marek’s PhD at the Max Plank Institute, Golm, focussed on the primary carbon metabolism of both heterotrophic and autotrophic tissue. He developed in vivo methods for metabolic flux studies using stable carbon isotope (13C) in combination with MS analytical methods. He also studied the influence of mitochondrial metabolism on the rate of starch biosynthesis in potato tubers.

He is currently working on using artificial scaffolds to increase photosynthetic efficiency in C3 plants.


PhD students

Ivan Reyna-Llorens

Ivan did his BSc in Biology at UNAM (Mexico) and then an MSc in Biochemistry at the same university. He is interested in the evolution of transcriptional regulation, especially in understanding the changes (both in cis and trans) required to acquire the C4 pathway.

Chris John

Chris studied Biochemistry at Sheffield University from 2005 to 2008, he joined Julians lab in 2011. He pursues a combination of molecular biology and computational analysis. Chris is currently experimentally involved in high throughput RNA seq workflows and downstream statistical analysis of the data. He carries this out alongside standard molecular biology techniques such as Gibson assembly and transient transformation to understand the control of C4 genes. He is enjoying programming in R, BASH, and Python.

Richard Smith

Richard has previously worked as a software developer, and took his BSc in Conservation Biology at the University of the West of England. He spent a sandwich year researching seed dormancy at the Millennium Seed Bank, and continued to work for the MSB as a data analyst during the final year of his degree. His PhD involves investigating C4 in wetland conditions.

Richard is currently developing software for improving high throughput biological data analysis, especially de-novo transcriptomics and regulatory motif discovery.

Britta Kuempers

Britta came from Edinburgh, and during her PhD has been working on the patterns of gene expression during leaf maturation of congeneric C3 and C4 species. This will provide important insight into conservation in gene expressioin across independent C4 lineages.


Jana Knerova

Jane is improving our transformation of Cleome gynandra and is focussing on assessing elements that generate expression in BS cells of C3 and C4 plants. She previously worked in James Hartwell's lab in Liverpool on Crassulacean Acid Metabolism.



Research staff

Chris Boursnell

Chris Boursnell earned his BSc at the University of Birmingham in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. After completing a Masters degree in Computational Biology at the University of East Anglia he started as a Research Assistant at Plant Sciences.

Chris is working on the Wild Rice MAGIC project in collaboration with IRRI. Chris enjoys programming in Ruby and Java.

Susan Stanley

Susan is in charge of keeping the lab running! She has been instrumental in developing the transformation pipeline that we use for Cleome gynandra. She is also responsible for plant and seed stock maintenance, ordering lab stocks, and time permiting, helps with specific research projects in the lab. She joined the lab in 2000 after having worked in Industry.



Past members

Former PhD students

  • Helen Woodfield: Engineering C4 genes into C3 species
  • Ben Williams: Mechanisms underlying the coordinated evolution of multiple C4 genes
  • Maria Herse: Crop improvement using synthetic variation
  • Ewan Gage: The role of small RNAs in C4 photosynthesis
  • Ben Tolley: Oat maize addition lines
  • Kaisa Kajala: Regulation of gene expression in C4 plants
  • Holly Astley: The role of PPDK regulatory proteins in C3 plants
  • Anna Leiss: The function of PEPCK in C3 plants
  • Lucy Taylor: The role of PPDK in nitrogen remobilisation
  • Sophie Janacek: Understanding the role of photosynthesis in veins of C3 plants
  • Diana Marshall: Using Cleome to understand C4 photosynthesis
  • Meredith Wilson: Genome structure and function in parasitic angiosperms

Former Post-Doctoral Research Associates

  • Dr. Sylvain Aubry: Molecular signature of the C4 phenotype
  • Dr. Naomi Brown: Role of C4 acid decarboxylases
  • Dr. Kate Parsley: Role and regulation of PPDK
  • Dr. Alex Johnson: Rice enhancer traps
  • Dr. Zheng Liu: Developing Cleome as a model
  • Dr. Elisabeth Truernit: Chloroplast isolation from specific cell types