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Professor Claire Grierson

Professor Claire Grierson

Professor Claire Grierson
B.Sc.(Warw.), Ph.D.(Cambridge)


Head of School

Area of research

Root-Soil Cohesion / Plant and Microbial Cell Biology

Office Life Sciences: 306
Life Sciences Building,
24 Tyndall Avenue, Bristol BS8 1TQ
(See a map)

+44 (0) 117 39 41185


I have spent many years researching development and differentiation - how molecules and cells become organised, especially during root development in Arabidopsis seedlings. Topics have included the role of auxin in plant cell growth, and the subcellular networks that drive tip growth in root hair cells. For more on these topics please visit our wiki. We are now applying our knowledge of plant roots to discover how roots prevent soil erosion, bearing in mind that human activity has already eroded a quarter of the vegetated land on Earth. We are also discovering how patterns of molecules and cells might be controlled. As a member of BrisSynBio and Bristol Director of the SynBio CDT I am also involved in research aimed at making the engineering of plants and cell populations more reliable.

Lay summary of research interests

We know that life is the product of complicated physical and chemical interactions between molecules, but how do these produce growth, and how is this growth controlled so that it happens at precisely the right times and in the right places? We are working to answer these questions using plants and microbes because it is easier, technically and ethically, to do powerful, informative experiments with these organisms than with animals. We often identify new molecules that are important for growth in many organisms. We are also finding out how interactions between molecules control growth. Most recently we have receved funding from the Leverhulme Trust to investigate how plant roots prevent soil erosion. This is potentially very important as we have already eroded at least a quarter of the vegetated land on earth. Our results are potentially relevant to a wide range of applications from agriculture to human health and we are exploring potential agricultural applications.


I co-founded the University of Bristol iGEM team with Mario Di Bernardo. Each spring a joint undergraduate and postgraduate Synthetic Biology workshop is held in preparation for iGEM. The team then works through the summer on a competition entry for the international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). So far we have been very successful, winning the Best Model prize in 2008 and 2009, gold medals in 2009 and 2010, and winning Best Food or Energy Project and third place overall in 2010. Projects have included engineering bacteria to work as a team Bristol iGEM 2008, Bristol iGEM 2009, and beads containing fluorescent bacteria that are designed to make agriculture less environmentally damaging Bristol iGEM 2010.

Network Evolution

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My first degree at the University of Warwick included a year in a bioscience research group at ICI, Runcorn. During my PhD with Professor Mike Bevan at Cambridge University and the John Innes Centre I studied mechanisms controlling potato tuber development, and identified transcription factors controlling the expression of storage protein genes. Since then I have worked on root development in Arabidopsis, firstly as a post-doctoral researcher with Dr Liam Dolan and Professor Keith Roberts at the John Innes Centre and later as a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow at IACR-Long Ashton. I became a lecturer at Bristol in 2000 and a Reader in 2004. I enjoy collaborating with researchers in other disciplines, through the Predictive Life Sciences theme, and the Bristol Centre for Complexity Sciences, with the goal of understanding biological systems better.

Research-related roles

Activities / Findings

Which Plant Proteins are Palmitoylated and Why

Hemsley, PA, Weimar, T, Kathryn, L, Dupree, P & Grierson, CS 2013, ‘A proteomic approach identifies many novel palmitoylated proteins in Arabidopsis’. New Phytologist, vol 197., pp. 805-814


Why We Need Plant Scientists 

Grierson, C. S., Barnes, S. R., Chase, M. W., Clarke, M., Grierson, D., Edwards, K. J., Jellis, G. J., Jones, J. D., Knapp, S., Oldroyd, G., Poppy, G., Temple, P., Williams, R. and Bastow, R. (2011), One hundred important questions facing plant science research. New Phytologist192: 6–12. doi: 10.1111


Understanding synthetic oscillators

Purcell, O, Savery, N, Grierson, C & Bernardo, MD 2010, ‘A comparative analysis of synthetic genetic oscillators’. Journal of The Royal Society Interface, vol 7., pp. 1503 - 1524


Relating Network Structure and Function

Gorochowski, T. E., di Bernardo, M. & Grierson, C. S.  2010,  'Evolving enhanced topologies for the synchronization of dynamical complex networks'. Physical Review E - Statistical, Nonlinear, and Soft Matter Physics. 81, 5, p. - 13 p.056212


Understanding Plant Cell Polarity

I presented our findings on how molecular interactions generate polar growth in plant cells at GARNet 2011 in Cambridge.

You can watch the video (22 minutes) here


I lecture undergraduates in Year 1 "Current Topics" wher I introduce our undergraduates to synthetic biology, Year 2: "Green Planet" and "Cell and Developmental Biology" and Year 3: "Plant Developmental Biology and Evolution".

I also teach up to 34 undergraduates as personal tutees (6 at each level), practical project students or library project students (6 of each), and run the "Saving the Earth" Field Course for up to 15 Year 2 students annually.

I am the Bristol Director of the EPSRC and BBSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Synthetic Biology (SynBio CDT) where, together with the Warwick Director and overall Director at Oxford, I design and manage the training of 15-20 doctoral students per year. The course includes a 100 day bespoke taught course in synthetic biology in which I personally lead the teaching of “Tuning gene expression via transcription, translation and mRNA and protein stability”, “Reporters for assessing gene expression”, “Modelling gene expression in MatLab”, "Introduction to synthetic biology", "The Impact of Synthetic Biology" and aspects of "Responsible Research and innovation". I also organise and oversee a week's teaching of “Cellular Design”.


  • Arabidopsis
  • root hair development
  • plant cell polarity
  • auxin
  • root hair tip growth
  • root soil cohesion
  • gene networks
  • synthetic biology
  • interdisciplinary research


  • molecular genetics
  • functional genomics
  • live cell imaging
  • computational modelling and simulation
  • mechanical measurements
  • water erosion assays
  • uprooting assays

Recent publications

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system


Professor Grierson currently teaches 4 courses:

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