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Tim George

Staff picture: Tim George
Ecological Sciences
Ecological Sciences
Rhizosphere Scientist
+44 (0)344 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Dundee DD2 5DA
Scotland UK


Current research interests

Understanding how plants react to and alter their external environment is key to optimising their nutrition and therefore the sustainability of agriculture and natural ecosystems. I am specifically interested in understanding the physiology of and genetic controls on plant responses to P-deficiency and drought. I have specific expertise in understanding how the external environment mitigates plant physiological and genetic responses to a lack of phosphorus in the rhizosphere. In addition, I am interested in how plants interact with the soil chemical, biological and physical environment to impact nutrient cycles, specifically organic P turnover and nitrification. This work will help identify useful traits and cultivars for future agricultural environments which are more nutrient efficient so that agriculture can be managed at less nutrient replete levels reducing its impact on the wider environment.



Past research

  • April 2011-present: Rhizosphere Scientist, The James Hutton Institute, UK.
  • 2007-April 2011: Rhizosphere Scientist, SCRI, UK. Holder of Royal Society of Edinburgh Personal Fellowship
  • 2004-2007: Marie Curie International Fellowship. CSIRO Plant Industry, Australia and SCRI, UK.
  • 2001–2004: Post Doctoral Research Fellow. CSIRO Plant Industry, Australia.
  • 1997–2000: PhD Soil Science. Department of Soil Science, University of Reading, UK and ICRAF, Kenya.
  • 1993–1996: BSc Natural Resources (First Class, Honours). Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK.


My personal research and that of the group which I manage, has produced a number of research highlights in the last 5 years.

  1. In an attempt to assess the impact of the transgenic plants which exude phytase on the wider environment we demonstrated that these plants have no discernable impact on the microbial community structure of the rhizosphere. Demonstrating that plants which are genetically modified to alter the biochemistry of the rhizosphere to improve the availability of organic P, will not compromise the microbial ecology of these systems.
  2. In a separate stream of work we have observed that while genetic variability in exuded phosphatases between wheat cultivars exists and this is important to plant nutrition under controlled conditions, it plays a limited role in predicting the P acquisition of plants in the soil environment. Similarly we have demonstrated that the genetic component of P-use efficiency in field grown barley is not robust against changes in cultivation treatment. Together this research challenges the use of screening approaches which screen crop populations for traits involved in plant nutrition in single environments and/or under controlled conditions.  
  3. A recent genotypic screening project has demonstrated significant variation in the rooting characteristics within and between species of cultivated potatoes grown in the field. We have further demonstrated that these characteristics are related to the ability of potato to acquire nutrients and water. Moreover, we have established a “high-throughput” controlled environment screen, which is validated against the field data, to establish the rooting characteristic variation in large mapping populations of potato.
  4. A separate screening project has demonstrated significant genotypic variation between barley cultivars to produce BNI (Biological Nitrification Inhibitors) which will be used to identify genes and cultivars to reduce the production of nitrous oxides by barley enterprises. This work has also demonstrated that this trait has a predictable impact on the community structure of ammonia oxidising bacteria and rates of nitrification in the rhizosphere.
  5. Work in the group has identified tens of bacterial and fungal isolates from Cameroonian soils with the ability to solubilise various forms of inorganic and organic phosphate, these have the potential to be used as inocula to improve the sustainability of subsistence agriculture in Cameroon. Some isolates have been demonstrated to have beneficial impacts on inoculated plants grown with metal phosphates and physical effects on mineral forms of phosphate in contact with these organisms. 
  6. Finally, we have demonstrated that root hairs are critical to the ability of cereal crops to yield under P-deficient conditions and that these plants produce root hairs rather than relying on mycorrhizae to tolerate low P soils. In addition, the presence of root hairs is implicit in the development of rhizosheaths in cereals and this trait is related to the ability of plants to cope with combined abiotic stress including drought and P-deficit. We have also demonstrated that the rhizosheath trait is extremely variable and highly heritable, making it a good target for breeding of improved cultivars of cereal crops for future agricultural environments. 


In the last five years I have supervised 2 Ph.D., 1 MSc, 1 MRes, 2 Honours and 1 Nuffield student, I have also hosted 8 visiting scientists from 4 different countries.  We have attracted just short of £1m to fund this research and have produced 14 peer reviewed journal articles, 5 book chapters published (or in press) and a further 5 manuscripts are in the final stages of preparation. This work has been presented on 20 occasions at scientific meeting in the last 2 years.   


  • Gregory, P.J.; Bengough, A.G.; George, T.S.; Hallett, P.D. (2013) Rhizosphere engineering by plants: quantifying soil-root interactions., In: Timlin, D., Ahuja, L. (eds.) Enhancing Understanding and Quantification of Soil-Root Growth Interactions. American Society of Agronomy, Madison, USA.
  • Gregory, P.J.; George, T.S.; Hallett, P.D.; Bengough, A.G. (2012) Advances in rhizosphere effects on soil-root growth interactions., In: Advances in Modeling Agricultural Systems: Trans-disciplinary Research, Synthesize, Modeling, and Applications (eds. Dennis Timlin and Laj Ahuja). ASA-SSSA-CSSA, Madison, WI.
  • Stockdale, E.A.; Goulding, K.W.T.; George, T.S.; Murphy, D.V. (2011) Soil Fertility., In:
  • George, T.S.; Fransson, A.; Hammond, J.P.; White, P.J. (2011) Phosphorus nutrition: Rhizosphere processes, plant response and adaptations., In: Buenemann, E., Oberson, A. & Frossard, E. (eds.). Phosphorus in Action - Biological Processes in Soil Phosphorus Cycling. Springer, Dordrecht, Netherlands, Chapter 10, 245-271.
  • White, P.J.; Bengough, A.G.; Bingham, I.J.; George, T.S.; Karley, A.J.; Valentine, T.A. (2009) Induced mutations affecting root architecture and mineral acquisition in barley., In: Shu, Q.Y. (ed.). Induced Plant Mutations in the Genomics Era. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Rome, Italy, pp381-384
  • George, T.S.; Richardson, A.E. (2008) Potential and limitations to improving crops for enhanced phosphorus utilisation., In: White, P.J. & Hammond, J.P. (eds.). The Ecophysiology of Plant-Phosphorus Interactions. Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, Chapter12, pp247-270.

  • Blackstock, K.L.; Brooker, R.; Pakeman, R.J.; Ellis, C.; George, T.; Iason, G.; Gilbert, L.; Artz, R,.R.E.; Irvine, R.J.; McVittie, A.; Newey, S.; Mitchell, R.; Gimona, A.; Fischer, A.; Begg, G.; Maxwell, J. (2017) Ecosystems and Land Use Stakeholders Engagement Group (ELSEG) Workshop Report., Workshop, Victoria Quay, Edinburgh, 20 November 2017.
  • McKenzie, B.M.; Stobart, R.; Brown, J.L.; George, T.S.; Morris, N.; Newton, A.C.; Valentine, T.A.; Hallett, P.D. (2017) Platforms to test and demonstrate sustainable soil management: integration of major UK field experiments., AHDB Final Report RD-2012-3786, 178pp.
  • Prashar, A.; George, T.S.; Ramsay, G.; Hallett, P.D.; Jones, H.G.; Hedley, P.E.; McNicol, J.W.; Dale, M.F.B.; White, P.J.; Bryan, G.J. (2010) Water use efficiency in potato., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2009, pp42-44.
  • George, T.S.; Wishart, J.; Brown, L.K.; Ramsay, G.; Bradshaw, J.E.; Gregory, P.J.; White, P.J. (2009) Variation in drought tolerance in potatoes., BPC Report.
  • George, T.S.; Brown, L.; Wishart, J.; Thompson, J.; Wright, G.M.; Ramsay, G.; Bradshaw, J.E.; White, P.J. (2008) Phosphorus efficient potatoes., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2007, pp42-43.

Printed from /staff/tim-george on 21/07/19 05:23:28 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.