News & Events

Research Assessment Exercise 2014: Biological Science at Oxford tops rankings


The results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 were published today and confirm the University of Oxford’s world leading position in biological sciences. We ranked top for the volume of world-leading research.

The University as a whole also ranked top with the largest volume of word leading research in the UK.

Our REF Impact case was developed by William Hawthorne and highlights the contribution Williams research has had on sustainable forestry in West Africa:

You can find out more about Oxford’s results at


Re-discovered diaries shed new light on one of the world's most studied woods


The re-discovered diaries and photographs of ecological pioneer Charles Elton have been digitised for the first time, providing a unique insight into the changing face of Oxford outdoor laboratory - Wytham Woods. Although the Woods were given to the University in 1942 little published information on what the Woods were actually like existed for the 1950s and 1960s. Fortunately Oxford's Museum of Natural History had stored the diaries detailing Elton's regular visits to Wytham from 1942 to 1965. These help paint a vivid and more complete picture of the woods' history and wildlife. The archives were transcribed and edited into downloadable, easily searchable electronic format by a volunteer during 2013-14, along with notes of visits to other sites in the region. The photographs accompanying the diaries reveal fascinating changes in ecologists as a species. The pictures show more ties on students, more smoking, the women regularly wear skirts for field work and some of the pictures reveal what today's leading ecologists looked like in their student days. The diaries also provide interesting insights into the events and management practices that have shaped Wytham Woods, and underline the importance of observational studies and long-term research.

Dr Keith Kirby will present an overview of the Elton diaries and their significance to the joint BES/SFE meeting on Thursday 11 December at the Grand Palais, Lille. "Most of us owe a great debt to those researchers who have gone before us: Newton described it as 'standing on the shoulders of giants'. I can express this in a slightly different way - once a month, for the last year I have literally been walking in the footsteps of one of ecology's giants, Charles Elton," says Dr Kirby.

Telephone: +44 755 728 2711

Image credits: left-hand colour images - K. J. Kirby, right-hand black & white images are reproduced with the permission of the Department of Zoology, Oxford

This exciting project would not have happened without the hard work of Caroline Pond, Nigel Fisher and Darren Mann.


New Oxford-China link in Plant Developmental Genetics


A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed on November 27th between President Jie Zhang (Shanghai Jiao Tong University, SJTU) and Professor Andrew Hamilton (Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford) to support ongoing collaboration in Plant Developmental Genetics and Neuronal Biology - areas which are a current focus for research in the two universities. The intention is to expand this collaboration to other areas in the field of Developmental Genetics and Biology. The MOU is the culmination of 5 year programme of visits and exchanges sponsored in part by the UK BBSRC and the Chinese "111" project. Oxford plant scientists have contributed to conferences, teaching and research in SJTU, and SJTU researchers have contributed to meetings organised in Oxford.

Our picture shows, front row, left to right: Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice Chancellor of University of Oxford; Professor Jie Zhang, President of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Back row, left to right: Professor Dabing Zhan, Vice Dean, School of Life Sciences and Biotechnology SJTU; Professor Hugh Dickinson, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford; Professor Zoltán Molnár, , Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, Oxford; Mr Ed Nash, International Strategy Officer, University of Oxford; Associate Professor Jin Xianmin, Department of Physics and Astronomy, SJTU.


Prof. Jackie Hunter visits Plant Sciences to discuss strategic priorities for UK plant and microbial science (Nov. 21st 2014)


Professor Jackie Hunter, CEO of BBSRC, led a delegation from BBSRC to the Department of Plant Sciences, to discuss the future of plant and microbial and to learn more about how the Department’s discoveries can contribute to the UK economy and contribute to sustainable economic development world wide.

Jackie was keen to highlight the importance of curiosity-driven fundamental research and the importance of identifying ways to maximize the impact of the discoveries that emerge from blue skies research.

Jackie got a flavor of the science and discovery from academic staff members, post docs and research students. Three areas of research and innovation were showcased. These demonstrated how investment in research can help humanity address current and future challenges.

Professor Phil Poole and his team demonstrated how understanding the biology of nitrogen fixing bacteria can contribute to the development of cereals that make their own nitrogen and would need less nitrogen-containing fertilizer. He also highlighted recent technical breakthroughs in his lab that has allowed the assessment of bacterial diversity in farmers’ fields for the first time. This led to a discussion on precision agriculture and how the UK can harness the potential of research like Phil’s to enhance UK crop yields at the same time as decreasing environmental impact.

Professor Renier van der Hoorn highlighted how research being carried out on his European Research Council-funded award called GREEN PROTEASE, will increase the efficiency of protein production in plants. Given that the first vaccine against the Ebola virus was produced in plants, his technology has the potential to increase proteins yield and decrease waste during the production process.

John MacKay highlighted the potential of capturing natural genetic variation in trees using genomics to protect forests from disease and to support tree improvement. John described his recent discovery of a gene that controls the resistance of white spruce to bud worm, a major pathogen of North American conifer forests. John highlighted how there is no need for genetically modified spruce - there is sufficient genetic variation in wild populations of trees to breed for resistance. John outlined his strategic vision in using genomics to develop strategies for dealing with important invasive diseases such as ash dieback in the UK.

The Department's partnership with the Business Development team and Isis Innovations Ltd (the University of Oxford owned technology transfer company) featured in the discussions about maximizing research impact. Examples of the Department's research funded by the BBSRC Sparking Impact program demonstrated how relatively small financial inputs could build on blue skies discoveries to stimulate entirely new areas of industrial research and collaboration.


Graduate Symposium Prizes 2014



This week the Department’s annual Graduate Symposium took place, showcasing the breadth of research across Plant Sciences. Our third year D.Phil. students gave research seminars, and the second year students presented posters.

Congratulations go to Ivey Geoghegan and Olga Sedelnikova who won the prizes for best talk and best poster, respectively.

Ivey Geoghegan’s project investigates the role of chitin deacetylation in the rice blast fungus, Magnaporthe oryzae.

Olga Sedelnikova’s project aims to identify developmental regulators of C4 Kranz anatomy.