The Team

Jim Haseloff, Department of Plant Sciences - has established bioengineering standards, genomic tools and high throughput methods for work with the model plant system Marchantia polymorpha. These include high resolution microscopy methods that allow live visualisation of gene expression and cell dynamics. The combination of genetic tools and advanced imaging techniques in a simple plant testbed allows radical new approaches to understanding and engineering plant growth. He is Cambridge Director of the BBSRC-EPSRC OpenPlant Synthetic Biology Research Centre, Chair of the Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative at the University of Cambridge and founder of Biomaker.

Tim O’Leary, Department of Engineering - studies living systems using ideas from control engineering and classical biology, with the goal of divining "engineering-like" principles that apply to cellular systems, what makes them adaptive, flexible and robust, how they self-organise during development. The lab uses experimental approaches and neural network models to understand complex regulatory control.

Somenath Bakshi, Nano Biosciences Centre, Department of Engineering - studies biological control systems and has developed a novel microfluidic platform to count proteins with extremely low abundances in live cells. These low-copy number proteins are the key players for fluctuations in gene-expression in bacteria. Cells have elaborate control circuits in order to suppress or to exploit the internal fluctuations arising from noisy gene-expression. He has developed high-throughput time-lapse imaging technology that enables systems-level, genome-wide analysis of such control circuits. These platforms and a library of reporters allow characterisation and improvement of synthetic control circuits.


Richard Smith, Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research, Köln and John Innes Centre, Norwich (from Sept 2019) - uses mathematical and computer simulation techniques to investigate questions in plant development, and develops cellular-level simulation models of hormone signalling and patterning in plant tissue. These models involve a biochemical aspect, genes, proteins, hormones, combined with growing, changing geometry as cells divide and tissues grow, and probe the interaction between these processes and feedback between gene expression and the physics of cellular growth. Richard develops methods to quantify mechanical properties in plant tissues, to facilitate the construction of biophysically-based simulation models of plant growth.

Carola Schönlieb, Department of Applied Maths and Theoretical Physics - is the Head of the Cambridge Image Analysis group. She has been awarded the 2016 Whitehead Prize by the London Mathematical Society, a 2017 Philip Leverhulme Prize, is Director of the Cantab Capital Institute for the Mathematics of Information, Director of the EPSRC Centre for Mathematical and Statistical Analysis of Multimodal Clinical Imaging, and a Faculty Fellow of the Alan Turing Institute. She works on the mathematical foundations of image analysis and inverse imaging problems. She works in applied and computational mathematics with particular focus on partial differential equations and variational methods for image analysis, including work on light microscopy and has considerable expertise in image reconstruction and inpainting.

Julian Hibberd, Department of Plant Sciences - works on the genetic basis of traits that underlie components of crop productivity, including study of the efficient C4 photosynthetic pathway. This has lead to work on the engineering of the pathway in rice, with potentially revolutionary implications for crop improvement.  His lab uses an interdisciplinary approach that includes the use of molecular, physiological and bioinformatic techniques and adoption of Marchantia polymorpha as a simple testbed. 

Gita Yadav, Department of Plant Sciences - a specialist in the application of computational and structural methods to plant genomics and phytochemistry, with experience in neural network modelling. Her interests are in exploring the connection between photosynthetic efficiency and epigenetic inheritance, and the role of phytochemicals in plant adaptive evolution and trait development.

Henrik Jönsson, Sainsbury Laboratory - develops computational morphodynamics models at the cellular level describing multicellular plant tissues such as the shoot apical meristem. The models are developed in close collaboration with experimental groups and describe the dynamics of gene regulatory networks, hormone transport and signalling, cell growth and division, and mechanical properties. Integral for the research is the iterative evaluation of the models and their parameters to new experimental data, mainly in the form of live microscopy data.

Pietro Lio, Artificial Intelligence Group, Computer Laboratory - develops methods for combining multi-omics and multi-physics models of living systems spanning multiple scales and encompassing interactions from molecules to cells to tissues to organ. Specialist in advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques.

Jim Ajioka, Department of Pathology - works on development of synthetic circuits and protozoan biology. He leads an EPSRC Global Challenges Research Fund programme to build and employ low cost viral diagnostics, using Synthetic Biology techniques. Jim’s lab also takes on foundational work such as generalised codon optimisation, robust switches and counters and big DNA manipulation, as well as maintain a long interest in protozoan biology. Jim is co-Chair of the University of Cambridge Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative, and co-founder of Colorifix, a startup that is developing sustainable textile dyeing processes, based on synthetic biology.