Photo of Dr James Hartwell

Dr James Hartwell Ph.D., B.Sc. (Hons)

Senior Lecturer in Plant Metabolism Biochemistry & Systems Biology

Research

Functional Genomics and Evolution of Crassulacean acid metabolism and C4 photosynthesis

Our main research aims to understand the molecular biology, biochemistry and physiology of the metabolic adaptation of photosynthesis called Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM), which is found in plants that inhabit arid and semi-arid regions of the world. We are collaborating with scientists in the USA to decode the transcriptomes and genomes of a range of CAM species, including Kalanchoë fedtschenkoi, Kalanchoë laxiflora and Agave sisalana, using next generation DNA sequencing approaches. K. laxiflora is our main functional genomics model for CAM, as we have developed a simple stable transformation system that allows us to test gene function in planta; plus this species produces thousands of tiny seeds making it very amenable to traditional genetic approaches. Our goal is to identify and characterise the 'CAMome', the genes required for efficient operation of CAM, including gaining a detailed understanding the genes required for optimal circadian clock control of CAM. We are also using RNAseq transcriptome analysis to identify and characterise the genes that underpin inverse stomatal control associated with CAM, whereby stomata open in the dark for primary CO2 fixation and close during the light allowing secondary CO2 refixation at high efficiency whilst minimising water loss.
To transition this work from models to crops, we are collaborating on a major international plant synthetic biology project led by Prof. John Cushman (University of Nevada-Reno, USA), in collaboration with Prof. Anne Borland (University of Newcastle), Dr. Xiaohan Yang (Oak Ridge National Lab, USA), and Prof. Jerry Tuskan (Oak Ridge National Lab, USA), to identify the 'parts list' or 'genetic blueprint' for CAM that will allow CAM to be engineered into C3 crops such as the bioenergy feedstock tree poplar (see CAM Biodesign Website). The goal is to develop C3 crops that have the water use efficiency benefits of CAM and that are therefore suited to productive growth in semi-arid environments or in regions that suffer from prolonged seasonal drought.
In a separate collaborative project with Dr. Colin Osborne, (University of Sheffield), we have sequenced the transcriptome of leaves from the C3 and C4 subspecies of a grass, Alloteropsis semialata, in order to identify the genes required for efficient C4 photosynthesis in grasses.

Research Group Membership

Research Grants

N8 Industry Innovation Forum: Bioeconomy KE fellow appointment

N8 INDUSTRY INNOVATION FORUM (N8 IIF) (UK)

October 2015 - March 2016

Functional genomics and hormonal regulation of Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) in a C4-CAM facultative species.

DEPARTMENT FOR BUSINESS, INNOVATION AND SKILLS (UK)

March 2015 - March 2019

Understanding the circadian control of plant primary metabolism

ROYAL SOCIETY (CHARITABLE)

March 2006 - February 2007

Engineering cam photosynthetic machinery into bioenergy crops for biofuels production in marginal environments.

US DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY (USA)

September 2012 - August 2019

Wazeera Abdullah - bench fees

REPUBLIC OF IRAQ MINISTRY OF EDUCATION

August 2014 - September 2016

Liverpool GeneMill

BIOTECHNOLOGY & BIOLOGICAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL (BBSRC)

September 2014 - September 2015

Sequencing the transcriptome of Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi: a model for the Saxifragales, Crassulacean acid metabolism and embryogenic plantlet formation

BIOTECHNOLOGY & BIOLOGICAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL (BBSRC)

May 2008 - May 2011

Liverpool BioAFM: an integrated optical and atomic force microscope for research across the life sciences

BIOTECHNOLOGY & BIOLOGICAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL (BBSRC)

January 2015 - January 2016

Sensing and the biological response in plants (SENSIBLE).

EUROPEAN COMMISSION

April 2006 - March 2010

Research Collaborations

Prof. Anne Borland

External: The University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne

US Dept. of Energy funded Plant Synthetic Biology project: "CAM Biodesign: Engineering CAM photosynthetic machinery into bioenergy crops for biofuels production in marginal environments"

Professor John Cushman

External: University of Nevada-Reno

US-Dept. of Energy funded Plant Synthetic Biology project - "CAM Biodesign: Engineering CAM photosynthetic machinery into bioenergy crops for biofuels production in marginal environments"

Dr. Xiaohan Yang, Prof. Jerry Tuskan, Dr. Dave Weston, Dr. Anne Borland, Prof. Tim Tschaplinsky

External: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

US Dept. of Energy funded Plant Synthetic Biology project: "CAM Biodesign: Engineering CAM photosynthetic machinery into bioenergy crops for biofuels production in marginal environments"

Prof. Helenice Mercier and Prof. Luciano Freschi

External: University of São Paulo

FAPESP Thematic Project (2011 - 2016): "Competence for Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM) expression in epiphytic bromeliad: signaling, modulation of expression, transcriptional profile and interaction with the nitrogen metabolism"

Dr. Colin Osborne

External: The University of Sheffield

Functional genomics of C4 photosynthesis in the grass Alloteropsis semialata

Prof. Neil Hall

Internal

Functional genomics of Crassulacean acid metabolism

Prof. Andrew Smith

External: University of Oxford

Collaborating on the characterisation of the vacuolar membrane transporters responsible for the movement of malate into and out of the vacuoles of mesophyll cells in CAM species.

Dr. Tracy Lawson

Project: Functional genomics of inverse stomatal control during Crassulacean acid metabolism
External: University of Essex

This collaboration focuses on understanding the molecular, biochemical and physiological signalling pathways that drive the opening of CAM stomata in the dark and their subsequent closure in the light.