Diarmuid O'Maoileidigh awarded BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship

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Diarmuid O'Maoileidigh in glasshouse

Dr Diarmuid O’Maoileidigh has been awarded a prestigious BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship for his research: ‘Evolution, development and mechanisms of floral organ photosynthesis’.

David Phillips Fellowships support outstanding scientists for five years in the early stage of their research careers, to set up their first independent research group to undertake a programme of excellent research. Up to five fellowships are awarded per year to the UK’s most promising early career researchers.

Food security and climate change are two of the most important challenges facing modern society. Increased crop productivity is required to provide enough food for an ever-growing population, however, this should not come at a cost of increased carbon emissions. Novel plants variants that require less land, capture more carbon and produce higher yields are needed.

Dr O'Maoileidigh is a plant molecular and developmental biologist whose aim is to understand how the leaf developmental program is modified in the floral organs of a range of flowering plants.

His research aims to understand more about non-leaf photosynthesis: how has nature used it to improve plant fitness? How is it programmed on genetic level? How can we manipulate it to benefit nature and society? Using a combination of molecular genetics, biochemistry, modern imaging approaches and genome editing technology, he will seek to understand how the regulation of this process is hard-wired into the genome, which could lead to the identification of novel breeding targets to improve crop performance.

Diarmuid said: "Although we will initially investigate species in the mustard plant family, this research will also be relevant to other plant families such as wheat, barley, and tomato, whose flowers and fruits also perform photosynthesis. Therefore, this project marks the beginning of a long-term goal to understand the evolution of non-leaf photosynthesis and to develop strategies to modify it in important crop plants."

Professor Mark Caddick, Dean of the Institute of Integrative Biology said: "This is great news and well deserved.  Diarmuid came here to establish himself as a group leader and this is the best start possible.  This award will enable Diarmuid to establish his independence and give him the time needed to develop the required technically demanding approaches outlined in his application. Diarmuid has significant expertise in plant molecular biology and genomics, which he is applying to the emerging field of floral organ photosynthesis.  This has potential applications in improving fruit and seed production in a wide range of crops.  The research programme is built on Diarmuid’s academic excellence and, excitingly, it has the potential to deliver real world impact."