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Kelly Houston

Cell and Molecular Sciences
Cell and Molecular Sciences
Molecular Geneticist
+44 (0)344 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Dundee DD2 5DA
Scotland UK


My broad research interests are in the genetics of grain compostion, and how this can be understood and improved for the different end uses of the grain.

My current research is on the identification, validation and understanding of interactions between genes influencing the different polysaccharides within the plant cell walls using a range of contemporary genetic techniques, in particular but not exclusively in barley. I have strong links to the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls, University of Adelaide and La Trobe University, and currently collaborate on multiple projects, including shared supervision of postgraduate students, with these groups. Most of this work is focused on gaining a better understanding of the regulation of (1,3;1,4)-beta-glucan synthesis in the grasses, and in particular the role of the cellulose synthase like (Csl) genes in barley.  (1,3;1,4)-beta-glucan in the grain is of notable interest as this polysaccharide has been shown to be beneficial for human health but detrimental to the brewing and distilling industry.

Barley grain contains a range of micronutrients, some of which can have a detrimental impact on the plant/ human health. Identfiying genes that influence the grain content of these micrnutrients can therefore be beneficial.

Additionally I am interested in the genetics underlying the flavour component provided by malted barley, and if different cultivars provide different flavour profiles.

Current research interests

The interest in studying (1,3;1,4)-beta-glucan in barley originates from the health benefits that can be obtained from including (1,3;1,4)-beta-glucan in the daily dietary fibre intake. Barley and oats contain higher levels of (1,3;1,4)-beta-glucan compared to wheat and rice. In 2005 the US Food and Drugs administration (FDA) approved the claim that whole grain barley and barley-containing products containing at least 0.75 grams of soluble (1,3;1,4)-β-glucan fibre per 228 g serving reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Exploiting a range of molecular genomic and genetic techniques and resources, we aim to define the functional diversity and regulation of the Csl gene families that mediate the synthesis of (1,3;1,4)-beta-glucan, a plant cell wall polysaccharide found in commercially important grasses and cereals.

Past research

My previous work as a postdoctoral research associate at the James Hutton institute involved fine mapping, identification and characterisation of genes influencing morphological traits in barley such as spike density (ZEOCRITON), awn development (LKS1) and glume development (Trd1). This was carried out as part of the EU funded BARCODE project with Robbie Waugh, Arnis Druka, Nils Stein and Michele Morgante.

  • 2009-2011 – PDRA – BARCODE project – Scottish Crop Research Institute (now the James Hutton Institute).
  • 2005-2009 – PhD – Ecotypic variation and population structure in grassland plant species – Newcastle University.


  • Thomas, W.T.B.; Bull, H.; Houston, K.; Looseley, M.E. (2017) Barley (Origins, uses, breeding, and composition)., In: Walker, G.M., Abbas, C., Ingledew, W.M. and Pilgrim, C. (eds.). The Alcohol Textbook, 6th edition. Chapter 5.

Printed from /staff/kelly-houston on 01/12/21 02:43:33 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.