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Alison Roberts

Staff picture: Alison Roberts
Cell and Molecular Sciences
Cell and Molecular Sciences
Plant Cell Biologist
+44 (0)344 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Dundee DD2 5DA
Scotland UK


Education and Employment History

  • 2003 - present - Plant Cell Biologist (Band 5), James Hutton Institute
  • 2001 - 2003 - Plant Cell Biologist (Band 6), SCRI
  • 1998 - 2001 - Post-doctoral Researcher (Band 6), SCRI
  • 1995 - 1999 - PhD Plant Virology/Cell Biology - Dundee University
  • 1990 - 1994 - BSc (Hons 1st) Botany and Plant Pathology - Dundee University

Role and responsibilities

  • Head of Cell Biology and Imaging Group.
  • Lead/conduct cell biological research on virus movement, macromolecular trafficking and phloem transport.
  • Investigate the use of novel fluorescent proteins and imaging technologies to ensure cutting edge methodologies are available in the CBI unit.

Current research interests

Potato Mop Top Virus

Image of FM1-43 labelled vesicles and membrane compartments in a PMTV-infected Nicotiana benthamiana leaf epidermal cellMy primary area of research is macromolecular trafficking in relation to plant-virus interactions. I am part of the group led by Lesley Torrance that studies potato mop-top virus (PMTV) and I have a specific interest in the intra- and intercellular movement of this virus. PMTV, like other related viruses, encodes a triple-gene block (TGB) which contains three proteins involved in viral movement and spread. Recent results have shown that TGB2 and TGB3 proteins interact with parts of the plant endocytic pathway (see Haupt et al., 2005 below) and I now believe that the polar auxin transport pathway may also be involved in PMTV movement. This is a major area of focus for my current and future research in addition to further cell biological studies of the endocytic pathway involvement in PMTV pathogenesis. PMTV is transmitted by the soil-borne plasmodiophorid Spongospora subterannea, where the virus is carried in the vector zoospores. Spongospora is a pathogen in it’s own right – causing powdery scab on potatoes - and future research will study the interactions, uptake and transmission of the virus by this pathogenic vector.

Phloem Transport

Image of unloading of carboxyfluorescein from major veins in a leaf undergoing the sink-source transitionI also maintain some research on phloem transport and symplastic unloading pathways.   Using fluorescent tracers, recent studies have demonstrated that symplastic connectivity between the phloem and bud meristems in potato tubers controls bud dormancy (see Viola et al., 2007 below). In leaf tissues, we have also shown that structural and functional vein maturation requires light or a product of light (Wright et al., 2003) and demonstrated that the endoplasmic reticulum of sieve elements and companion cells in the phloem is continuous through pore-plasmodesma units, showing that direct membrane trafficking is possible between these cell types (Martens et al., 2006). In 2006, I also constructed a high complexity and high quality cDNA library from the phloem and it is intended to use this to screen for plant proteins that interact with PMTV movement proteins and other plant pathogen proteins.

Techniques and Technology

Image of TUA-GFP tagged microtubules in a guard cell complex and subsidiary epidermal cellsIn addition to my scientific research, I am responsible for ensuring that a wide range of cell biological and imaging techniques are available at SCRI, and that we maintain a state-of-the-art suite of microscopes. Confocal, fluorescence, light and electron microscopy are all available within the Cell Biology and Imaging Unit (CBI). I have a particular interest in expressible fluorescent proteins and multiple-labelling techniques to allow non-invasive, in vivo imaging of plant cell biology. Staff in CBI are currently working to develop a novel small fluorescent protein for use as a fluorescent reporter in plants.

Past research

I was previously based in the Programme of Cell-Cell Communication and was primarily involved in basic studies of plasmodesmata, the pores that interconnect and allow communication between plant cells. My research included investigating the structural and functional differences between simple and branched plasmodesmata, their control mechanisms, their interaction with viral proteins and their development during the sink-source transition. Prior to that, I was predominantly involved in studies of tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) and potato virus X (PVX) movement, both intra and intercellularly, and from cell to cell or systemically through the phloem. While my primary research focus has changed in recent years, my current studies are related to and built on my previous expertise.


  • Vlachopoulou, E.I.; Makino, M. (2018) Local fisheries and land reclamation: The case of the Tokyo Bay mantis shrimp fishery., In: Guillotreau, P., Bundy, A. & Perry, R.I., (eds.). Global Change in Marine Systems: Integrating Natural, Social and Governing Responses. London and New York, Routledge.

  • Boevink, P.; Calcutt, J.; Roberts, A.G.; Oparka, K.J. (2004) Real time studies of cell-to-cell communication., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2003/2004, 129-130.
  • Wright, K.M.; Roberts, A.G.; Martens, H.J.; Sauer, N.; Oparka, K.J. (2002) Phloem development and function probed with a companion-cell marker., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2001/2002, pp118-121.
  • Gillespie, T.; Toth, R.; Haupt, S.; Boevink, P.; Roberts, A.G.; Chapman, S.N.; Oparka, K.J. (2001) A DNA-shuffled movement protein enhances virus transport by evasion of a host-mediated degradation pathway., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2000/2001, pp107-111.
  • Roberts, A.G.; Santa, Cruz, S.; Boevink, P.; Roberts, I.M.; Sauer, N.; Oparka, K.J. (1999) The sink-source transition in leaves - new insights., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 1998/99, 76-79.
  • Santa, Cruz, S.; Boevink, P.; Duncan, G.; Roberts, A.G.; Prior, D.A.M.; Oparka, K.J. (1998) Probing the virus long-distance tranport pathway., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 1997/98, 114-117.

Printed from /staff/alison-roberts on 26/06/22 09:41:42 AM

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.