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Robert Hancock

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Recent publications

Staff picture: Robert Hancock
Cell and Molecular Sciences
+44(0)1382 568779

The James Hutton Institute
Dundee DD2 5DA
Scotland UK

Current research interests 

My current research interests focus on the impact of plant genotype, the biotic and the abiotic environment on crop quality with particular focus on the role of reactive oxygen signalling and the cellular redox environment in modulating plant responses to environmental cues. I conduct a mixture of both fundamental and applied research adopting a physiological, biochemical and increasingly molecular approach. Primary crops of interest are potatoes and soft fruit.

The laboratory currently hosts three PhD students. Two of these research projects aim to understand the interaction between genetics and environment in the accumulation of phytochemicals associated with quality in soft fruit (blackcurrants and blueberries) and a further project is examining plant responses to aphids.

In blueberry we aim to understand the relationship between fruit chemistry and sensory attributes in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Strathclyde. In addition, we aim to understand the interplay between crop genetics and growing environment with respect to the accumulation of compounds providing potential health benefits to consumers (vitamin C, polyphenolic antioxidants). Our analytical and biochemical work feeds into a genetic map being produced by colleagues to allow the rapid breeding of blueberry cultivars suitable for production of fruit meeting UK consumer expectations.

A similar approach is being applied to understanding the accumulation of a range of phytochemicals in blackcurrant fruit. Here we aim to characterise genes associated with the accumulation of specific phytochemicals by developing a blackcurrant microarray to allow analysis of global gene expression throughout the course of fruit ripening. Fruit phytochemistry changes dramatically over the course of ripening and by combining phytochemical analysis with gene expression studies we aim to identify genes contributing to phytochemical accumulation. This will feed into the JHI blackcurrant breeding programme providing candidate genes for cultivar improvement.

Microarray technologies, in combination with metabolome analysis has allowed us to characterise the response of the model plant Arabidopsis to aphid infestation. In collaboration with colleagues at the University of Leeds, we have demonstrated the divergence of local and systemic responses and identified cellular redox processes as key determinants of the plant response. This has been further verified by analysis of mutants that have low vitamin C levels and hence a more oxidised cellular redox environment. Furthermore, we have been able to demonstrate that redox processes are also key in the response of crops (potato) to aphid infestation.

The laboratory is also currently funded by the Scottish Government to develop an understanding of potato to heat stress in order to breed heat resistant cultivars. Our focus is on understanding the impact of high temperatures on carbon partitioning within the plant and the role of redox processes on carbon assimilation, transport and metabolism.

Past research 

My initial work at the Institute took a biochemical and physiological approach to understanding the accumulation of vitamin C in blackcurrant fruit and potato tubers. We were able to demonstrate that in addition to biosynthesis within the fruit or tuber, vitamin C was transported long distance from leaves via the phloem. Additional work involved the development of engineered yeast strains capable of vitamin C biosynthesis. I have also worked on key plant developmental programmes including bud dormancy, potato dormancy and potato tuberisation. Applied work included a Scottish Enterprise funded programme developing methods for the extension of shelf-life in minimally processed (fresh-cut) fruit and vegetables.


  • Foyer, C.H., Rasool, B., Davey, J.W. and Hancock, R.D. (2016) Cross tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses in plants: A focus on resistance to aphid infestation. Journal of Experimental Botany 67, 2025-2037.
  • Damerum, A., Selmes, S.L., Biggi, G.F., Clarkson, G.J.J., Rothwell, S.D., Truco, M.J., Michelmore, R.W., Hancock, R.D., Shellcock, C., Chapman, M.A., Taylor, G. (2015) Elucidating the genetic basis of antioxidant status in lettuce (Lactuca sativa). Horticulture Research 2, 15055.
  • Comadira, G., Rasool, B., Karpinska, B. Márquez García, B., Morris, J., Verrall, S.R., Bayer, M., Hedley, P.E., Hancock, R.D., Foyer, C.H. (2015) WHIRLY1 functions in the control of responses to N-deficiency but not aphid infestation in barley (Hordeum vulgare). Plant Physiology 168, 1140-1151.
  • Comadira, G., Rasool, B., Karpinska, B., Morris, J., Verrall, S.R., Hedley, P.E., Foyer, C.H., Hancock, R.D. (2015) Nitrogen deficiency in barley (Hordeum vulgare) seedlings induces molecular and metabolic adjustments that trigger aphid resistance. Journal of Experimental Botany 66, 3639-3655.
  • Foyer, C.H., Verrall, S.R., Hancock, R.D. (2015) Systematic analysis of phloem-feeding insect induced transcriptional reprogramming in Arabidopsis highlights common features and reveals distinct responses to specialist and generalist insects. Journal of Experimental Botany 66, 495-512.
  • Sweetman, C., Sadras, V.O., Hancock, R.D., Soole, K.L., Ford, C.M. (2014) Metabolic effects of elevated temperature on organic acid degradation in ripening Vitis vinifera fruit. Journal of Experimental Botany 65, 5975-5988.
  • Morris, W.L., Hancock, R.D., Ducreux, L.J.M., Morris, J.A., Usman, M., Verrall, S.R., Sharma, S.K., Bryan, G., McNicol, J.W., Hedley, P.E., Taylor, M.A. (2014) Dat length dependent restructuring of the leaf transcriptome and metabolome in potato genotypes with contrasting tuberisation phenotypes. Plant, Cell and Environment 37, 1351-1363.
  • Viger, M., Hancock, R.D., Miglietta, F., Taylor, G. (2014) More plant growth but less plant defence? First global gene expression data for plants grown in soil amended with biochar. Global Change Biology - Bioenergy (DOI: 10.1111/gcbb.12182).
  • Hancock, R.D., Morris, W.L., Ducreux, L.J.D., Morris, J.A., Usman, M., Verrall, S.R., Fuller, J., Simpson, C.G., Zhang, R., Hedley, P.E., Taylor, M.A. (2014) Physiological, biochemical and molecular responses of the potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) plant to moderately elevated temperature. Plant, Cell and Environment 37, 439-450.
  • Kerchev, P.I., Karpińska, B., Morris, J.A., Hussain, A., Verrall, S.R., Hedley, P.E., Fenton, B., Foyer, C.H. and Hancock, R.D. 2013. Vitamin C and the abscisic acid-insensitive 4 transcription factor are important determinants of aphid resistance in Arabidopsis. Antioxidants and Redox Signaling 18, 2091-2105.
  • Foito, A., Byrne, S., Hackett, C.A., Hancock, R.D., Stewart, D. and Barth, S. 2012. Short-term response in leaf metabolism of perennial ryegrass (Lolium perene) to alterations in nitrogen supply. Metabolomics 9, 145-156.
  • Foyer, C.H., Kerchev, P.I. and Hancock, R.D. 2012. The ABA-INSENSITIVE-4 (ABI4) links redox, hormone and sugar signalling pathways. Plant Signaling and Behavior 7, 276-281.
  • Barakate, A., Stephens, J., Goldie, A., Hunter, W.N., Marshall, D., Hancock, R.D., Lapierre, C., Morreel, K., Boerjan, W. and Halpin, C. 2012. Syringyl lignin is unaltered by severe sinapyl alcohol dehydrogenase suppression in tobacco. Plant Cell 23, 4492-4506.
  • Nwankno, A.J., Gordon, S.L., Verrall, S.R., Brennan, R.M. and Hancock, R.D. 2012. Treatment with fungicides influences phytochemical quality of blackcurrant juice. Annals of Applied Biology 160, 86-96.
  • Kerchev, P.I., Fenton, B., Foyer, C.H. and Hancock, R.D. 2012. Infestation of potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) by the peach-potato aphid (Myzus persicae Sulzer) alters cellular redox status and is influenced by ascorbatePlant, Cell and Environment 35, 430-440.
  • Kerchev, P.I., Fenton, B., Foyer, C.H. and Hancock, R.D. 2012. Plant responses to insect herbivory: Interactions between photosynthesis, reactive oxygen species and hormonal signaling pathways. Plant, Cell and Environment 35, 441-453.
  • Kerchev, P.I., Pellny, T.K., Diaz-Vivancos, P., Kiddle, G., Hedden, P., Driscoll, S. Verrier, P.J., Hancock, R.D. and Foyer, C.H. 2011. The transcription factor ABI-4 is required for the ascorbic acid-dependent regulation of growth and regulation of jasmonate-dependent defense signaling pathways. Plant Cell 23, 3319-3334.
  • Ross, H.A., Morris, W.L, Ducreaux, L.J.M., Hancock, R.D., Verrall, S.R., Morris, J.A., Tucker, G.A., Stewart, D., Hedley, P.E., McDougall, G.J. and Taylor, M.A. 2011. Pectin engineering to modify product quality in potato. Plant Biotechnology Journal 9, 848-856.
  • Ross, H.A., Wright, K.M., McDougall, G.J., Roberts, A.G., Chapman, S.N., Morris, W.L., Hancock, R.D., Stewart, D., Tucker, G.A., Janes, E.K. and Taylor, M.A. 2011. Potato tuber pectin structure is influenced by pectin methyl esterase activity and impacts on cooked potato texture. Journal of Experimental Botany 62, 371-381.
  • Johnson, S.N., Barton, A.T., Clarke, K.E., Gregory, P.J., McMenemy, L.S. and Hancock, R.D. 2011. Elevated atmospheric CO2 impairs the performance of root-feeding vine weevils by modifying root growth and secondary metabolites. Global Change Biology 17, 688-695.
  • Hancock, R.D.and Stewart, D. 2010. Enhancing the nutritional quality of fruit juices: advanced technologies for juice extraction and pasteurization. In: Biotechnology of Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals (Eds: Bagchi, D., Lau, F.C. and Ghosh, D.K.), CRC Press, Florida, USA. pp. 463-482.
  • Stushnosh, C., Ducreux, L.J.M., Hancock, R.D., Hedley, P.E., Holm, D., McDougall, G.J., McNicol, J.W., Morris, J., Morris, W.L., Sungurtas, J.A., Verrall, S.R., Zuber, T. and Taylor, M.A. 2010. Flavonoid profiling and transcriptome analysis reveals new gene metabolite correlations in tubers of Solanum tuberosum L. Journal of Experimental Botany 61, 1225-1238.
  • Walker, P.G., Viola, R., Woodhead, M., Jorgensen, L., Gordon, S.L., Brennan, R.M. and Hancock, R.D. 2010. Ascorbic acid content of blackcurrant fruit is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Functional Plant Science and Biotechnology 4 (Special issue 1). 40-52.
  • Hancock, R.D.2009. Recent patents on vitamin C: opportunities for crop improvement and single-step biological manufacture. Recent Patents on Food, Nutrition and Agriculture 1, 39-49.
  • Hancock, R.D.,Chudek, J.A., Walker, P.G., Pont, S.D.A. and Viola, R. 2008. Ascorbic acid conjugates isolated from the phloem of Cucurbitaceae. Phytochemistry 69, 1850-1858.
  • Hancock, R.D.,Roberts, A.G. and Viola, R. 2008. A role for symplastic gating in the control of the potato tuber life cycle. Plant Signaling and Behavior 3, 27-29.
  • Hancock, R.D., Walker, P.G., Pont, S.D.A., Marquis, N., Vivera, S., Gordon, S.L., Brennan, R.M. and Viola, R. 2007. L-Ascorbic acid accumulation in fruit of Ribes nigrum occurs by in situ biosynthesis via the L-galactose pathway. Functional Plant Biology 34, 1080-1091.
  • Viola, R., Pelloux, J., van der Ploeg, A., Gillespie, T., Marquis, N., Roberts, A.G. and Hancock, R.D. 2007. Dormancy release in potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) tuber buds is dependent on the induction of symplastic unloading. Plant, Cell and Environment 30, 973-983.
  • Hancock, R.D., McDougall, G.J. and Stewart, D. 2007. Berry fruit as 'superfoods': hope or hype?The Biologist 54, 73-79.
  • Mazzitelli, L.,Hancock, R.D., Haupt, S., Walker, P.G., Pont, S.D.A., McNicol, J., Cardle, L., Morris, J., Viola, R., Brennan, R. Hedley, P.E. and Taylor, M.A. 2007. Co-ordinated gene expression during phases of dormancy release in raspberry (Rubus idaeus L.) buds. Journal of Experimental Botany 58, 1035-1045.

PDF file: Rob Hancock full publication list (88 KB)

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.