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 with international partners as part of a plant synthetic biology project involving Prof. John Cushman (University of Nevada-Reno, USA), Prof. Anne Borland (University of Newcastle), Dr. Xiaohan Yang (Oak Ridge National Lab, USA). Our lab in Liverpool is focussing on the identification of the 'parts list' or 'genetic blueprint' for CAM that will allow CAM to be engineered into C3 crops. 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. Moreover, we are seeking to develop novel varieties of staple crops that are pre-adapted to the expected more frequent droughts and extreme temperature events due to human-induced climate change.

The unique features of the C4 to CAM transition in response to drought in Portulaca oleracea

This research project involves an international collaboration with Prof. Luciano Freschi and Dr. Renata Callegari-Ferrari of the University of São Paulo in Brasil. We have used quantitative RNA-seq analysis to decipher the transcriptome changes that accompany the transition from Portulaca oleracea using C4 photosynthesis when well-watered, through to CAM when drought stressed. This work has been supported by a Royal Society Newton Advanced Fellowship awarded to Prof. Freschi and support from FAPESP in Brasil for the PhD of Dr. Callegari-Ferrari.

Research Grants

Bench fees for Maryam Ibrahim F Subaylaa - KFU526

ROYAL EMBASSY OF SAUDI ARABIA CULTURAL BUREAU IN LONDON (UK)

July 2019 - September 2022

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. Michael Blatt and Dr. Cecile Lefoulon

Project: Understanding the guard cell ion channel regulation associated with inverse stomatal opening during CAM in Kalanchoë
External: University of Glasgow

Collaboration to investigate the guard cell ion channel regulation responsible for driving stomatal opening in the dark and closure in the light in association with Crassulacean acid metabolism in Kalanchoë.

Prof. Andrea Brautigam

Project: Genome-wide analysis of CAM gene regulation in Kalanchoë laxiflora
External: University of Bielefeld, Germany

Collaboration to explore the gene regulatory networks responsible for the development and temporal regulation of Crassulacean acid metabolism in Kalanchoë laxiflora

Prof. Luciano Freschi

External: University of São Paulo, Brasil

Royal Society Newton Advanced Fellowship awarded to Prof. Freschi to collaborate with Dr. Hartwell's lab to investigate the molecular-genetic, biochemical and physiological basis of the transition from C4 photosynthesis to CAM in response to drought in Portulaca oleracea.

Dr. Soon-Jae Lee and Prof. Ian Sanders

Project: The influence of Crassulacean acid metabolism on the circadian clock in symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi
External: University of Lausanne, Switzerland

Collaboration to explore communication between the circadian system of the host Crassulacean acid metabolism plant (Kalanchoë laxiflora) and the circadian rhythms of mycorrhizal fungi that are symbiotic on the roots system of the plants.

Prof. 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.

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"

Prof. Colin Osborne

External: The University of Sheffield

Functional genomics of C4 photosynthesis in the grass Alloteropsis semialata

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.

Prof. Michael Raissig

Project: Development of the leaf stomatal complex in Kalanchoë
External: University of Heidelberg, Germany

Collaboration to explore the molecular genetic basis for the development of the unique subsidiary cell arrangement around the guard cell pairs in the leaves of Kalanchoë species.