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 nine- 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 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.

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.

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.

Lei Hua

Lei got his PhD in Crop Genetics and Breeding at China Agricultural University in 2015, during his PhD study, he identified and characterized a domestication gene controlling long and barbed awns from the progenitor of cultivated rice, common wild rice (Oryza rufipogon). Lei joined Hibberd lab in 2016; he is investigating the regulatory mechanisms of cell-specific gene expression in C3 leaves.

Sherif El-Sharnouby

Sherif joined the Hibberd lab as a postdoc in January 2016 where he is currently working on the C4 Rice Project. He is using his past experience to shed light on the transcriptional regulation of chloroplast biogenesis, by performing cell type-specific analyses comparing mesophyll and bundle sheath cells. He did his PhD in Rob White’s lab at the University of Cambridge where he worked on the Drosophila spermatogenesis cell differentiation pathway and developed an experimental framework for genome-wide epigenetic profiling of individual cell stages of the Drosophila male germline.

Haiyan Xiong

Haiyan got her PhD in 2014 from the Department of Plant Genetics and Breeding in China Agriculture University (CAU) at Prof. Zichao Li’ laboratory and then she started a postdoc research under supervision of Prof. Yan Guo at the same university. During her work in CAU, she focused on characterization of drought-resistance genes in upland rice. In October 2016, Haiyan joined the Hibberd lab, and is currently investigating the regulatory mechanism of light stress response in rice bundle sheath cells.

Pallavi Singh

Pallavi did a PhD in 2015 at National Institute of Plant Genome Research, India. She worked on investigating the role of Mitogen Activated Protein Kinase (MAPK) signaling networks in imparting flooding tolerance in rice. In October 2015, she moved as a post- doctoral associate to Cornell University, US, where her research interests focused on the interaction of rice with its bacterial pathogen Xanthomonas and the role of transcription activator-like (TAL) effector proteins facilitating this interplay. In 2017 she started a post-doctoral position at the University of Cambridge, and is currently working on elucidating the spectrum of regulatory networks governing the evolution of C4 photosynthesis.

Sean Stevenson

Sean got his PhD from the University of Leeds where he studied abscisic acid (ABA) signalling in the model bryophyte Physcomitrella patens. This work identified a novel ABA regulator that was likely important in plant's conquest of land. After leaving the north for warmer climes, Sean joined the Hibberd lab at the start of 2017. He will be using another bryophyte model (Marchantia this time) to study light signalling and regulation and how this is integrated in early plant development and photosynthesis.

PhD students

Greg Reeves

Greg has a BSc in Genetics and MSc in Horticulture both from New Mexico State University where he studied the inheritance of disease resistance and spicy flavour in chilli peppers. He discovered a new gene that inhibits disease resistance, helped sequence the chilli pepper genome and developed one of the hottest peppers in the world. Additionally, he helped identify novel genes involved in photosynthesis from large-scale mutant screening in green algae at the Carnegie Institute for Science, Stanford. At Cambridge, he is investigating the genetic basis for C4 photosynthesis from natural variation among C4 plants and traditional gene mapping approaches to identify which genes are involved in developing the C4 pathway.

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.

Robyn Phillips

Robyn graduated with a BA in Biological Sciences from the University of Oxford in 2013. She joined the lab as a BBSRC DTP student in 2016 to work on activating photosynthesis in non-photosynthetic cells for improved crop productivity.

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.

Mathieu Grangé-Guermente

Mathieu earned his BSc at the Université Paul Sabatier Toulouse 3 in Plant Genetics. He joined Julian Hibberd's Lab in 2016 as research technician to work on the C4 rice project.


Yingrui Li

Yingrui Li graduated from the Nanjing Agricultural University with a BSc in Agronomy then doing MSc in Plant Nutrition at the same university. In 2016 she came to Cambridge as a visiting student.

Past members

Former PhD students

- Britta Kümpers: Analysis of C4 photosynthesis using Flaveria
- Richard Smith: Computational analysis of C4
- Chris John: Comparative transcriptomics of C4
- 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. Sarah Covshoff: C4 rice
- 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