Plants have evolved to specialise in niche environments. Their ability to optimise their form and physiology under changes to that environment – which we call plasticity – is a feature that distinguishes plants from animals. There is no ‘normal climate’ for plants.

Deciduous plants change their form through annual cycles in synchrony with the seasons – leaf fall, dormancy, regrowth, flowering and so-on. But since there’s no ‘normal,’ unseasonal events lead to disorder, i.e. poor yield or quality.

So how to plants perceive annual cycles? And how can science intervene to prevent disorder?  This research studies the critical stage of dormancy in the most economically important fruit crop, grapevine.

We know surprisingly little about the regulation of dormancy. Hence this project begins in the field, with partners in the grape and wine industry. We accurately characterise bud dormancy throughout the life of grapevines.

Respiration, tissue oxygen tension, in situ redox detection and transcriptome approaches have defined our progress to date. Further spatial resolution will be developed using (i) geometric modelling approaches with computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging data; and (ii) in situ quantitation of gene expression. Functional approaches, using in vitro assays and ectopic expression in Arabidopsis will explore the role of candidate regulator genes and proteins defined from these studies.

This is an ambitious project but the principle is to provide a platform to build on over several years, while generating outcomes for the grape and wine industries at each stage. The most important asset in this project the people, i.e. the students and postdoctoral researchers, plus the international network of leading scientists that contribute expertise and facilities to the project.


  • Prof Christine Foyer, University of Leeds, UK
  • Dr Dan Gibbs, University of Birmingham, UK
  • Dr Pieter Verboven, KU Leuven, Belgium