Skip to navigation Skip to content

Gordon Simpson

Staff picture: Gordon Simpson
Cell and Molecular Sciences/ University of Dundee Division of Plant Sciences
Cell and Molecular Sciences
Principal Investigator
+44 (0)344 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Dundee DD2 5DA
Scotland UK


Gordon Simpson’s lab is jointly supported by the James Hutton Institute and the University of Dundee. The lab is part of the Cell and Molecular Sciences Group at the James Hutton Institute, Dundee and Gordon is a Principal Investigator and Professor within Dundee University College of Life Sciences.

Current research interests

Image of ArabidopsisWe are interested in how plants control the time at which they flower and the number of flowers that they make. These are fundamental aspects of plant development that underpin yield potential in crops like rice and wheat, which are critical to world food security.

Flowering time

Plants control the time at which they flower in response to environmental cues, such as day-length and temperature (some of the best biological evidence of recent climate change came from historical records of the first flowering date of diverse plant species). Flowering time control is an important part of how plants adapt to their environment and logically this is true for crop plants as well, with time to flowering being one of the most important traits determining the geographical range of crop cultivation. Flowering appears to be integrated with other plant processes, although this is currently poorly understood.

Image showing barley mutant

Flower number

The number of flowers that a plant makes is important because it limits yield potential. The impact of crop breeding on this phenomenon is most clearly evident in modern day cultivated maize, which makes many times more flowers (and hence grain) than its wild progenitor. Despite its fundamental importance to us, we know surprisingly little about what controls flower number in cereals.

RNA and genome science

While studying the mechanisms controlling flowering we have uncovered specific RNA processing events and non-coding RNAs involved in gene regulation and expression. We are using the insight derived from genome-wide RNA sequencing studies to understand how plant genomes function and how they are organised.

Scientific approaches

Our research is anchored in unbiased approaches involving molecular genetics and genome-wide analyses of gene expression using third generation true single molecule sequencing.

Much of our work involves the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. We have studied mutants that flower either earlier or later than normal. Our experiments are designed to understand how the genes disrupted in these mutants are required for flowering in order to uncover the molecular mechanisms that mediate the precise control of flowering time.

We have identified RNA binding proteins required for flowering time control and we have shown that they control the site of mRNA cleavage and polyadenylation. This has led us to use Direct RNA Sequencing technology to investigate the impact of these RNA binding proteins on gene expression genome-wide. In order to understand the cellular assemblies that these protein function in, we have also developed simple generally applicable procedures for the identification of in vivo RNA and protein targets.

Explore, explain

Our work on flowering time and direct RNA sequencing has uncovered previously unrecognised non-coding RNAs. Although the Arabidopsis and human genomes were sequenced many years ago, we continue to discover what these genomes code for and how they are organised. We have major funding from the BBSRC to annotate and determine the function of the non-coding Arabidopsis genome and funding to determine where genes “end.” Since much of our basic understanding of plant science stems from work with Arabidopsis, these path-finding studies underpin the proper annotation of crop plant genomes essential to our future food and energy security.

Collaborate, translate

Our genome-wide RNA sequence analysis is done in partnership with Prof. Geoff Barton’s computational biology team at Dundee University. We have an important funded collaboration with Prof. Claire Halpin’s lab at Dundee University, uncovering genetic combinations optimised for second-generation biofuel production. Our discoveries in these research areas have been secured by patenting. We translate our work on flower development, RNA and gene regulation in Arabidopsis out to other species (including humans), while our work on flower number uses novel mutants of barley.

More information

If you would like to find out more about what we do, or if you’d like join the lab, please go to Gordon Simpson’s Lab Web Page.


Printed from /staff/gordon-simpson on 26/03/23 04:47:25 PM

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.