School of Biosciences

Image of Erik Murchie

Erik Murchie

Professor of Applied Plant Physiology, Faculty of Science




Twitter ID: erikmurchie

2019 -

Professor of Applied Plant Physiology

2006 - 2018

Associate Professor and Lecturer in Crop Science, University of Nottingham.

1996 to 2005

Postdoctoral Research Assistant (PDRA): Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, University of Sheffield, U.K and International Rice Research Institute, Philippines.


Post doctoral Research Associate, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), Versailles, France

Expertise Summary

I study photosynthesis in crop plants. In particular my group is interested in the regulation of photosynthesis in response to environmental factors in all types of cropping systems. Why is this important? It is clear that photosynthesis operates below optimal efficiency in the field and if we could improve this it would have an impact on grain yield. I use crops such as wheat and rice to understand the genetic basis for processes such as photoprotection.

Teaching Summary

I convene the following modules:

Applied Plant physiology: cell to crop (D223P9), Level 2. This module covers essential aspects of plant biochemistry and physiology as it relates to the fundamental processes of capture of water, minerals and radiation.

Contribute to the following modules

Plants and the Light environment (D224P5)

Field Crops Cereals (D24AO2)

Genetic Improvement of Crop Plants (D23BA7)

The Biosciences and Global Food Security (D211A1)

Plant Science

Research Summary

Optimising photosynthesis in crop canopies

​My group studies the factors that regulate and limit photosynthesis in crop plants. We examine the fundamental processes in crop plants such as light harvesting, carbon assimilation and energy dissipation and identify targets and strategies for improvement of crops in both optimal and suboptimal (stressful) environments. We also work with novel agricultural systems such as those which are making use of novel lighting technology in horticulture. The rate of leaf and canopy photosynthesis is becoming more important as a target for raising crop yields. We know this from studies that identify total biomass accumulation rate as a limiting factor (Murchie et al, 2009).

The processes of harvesting and converting photosynthetically active radiation in plants are capable of operation with a very high efficiency at the molecular level. However the upscaling of these processes to plants, canopies and agroecosystems involves losses caused by metabolic and environmental factors and we measure this as a reduction in radiation - use efficiency (RUE)*.

Highlighted Funded projects as PI

HEDWIC Mini grant with the Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, 2021-2023. 'Exploring novel approaches for determining genetic variation in heat-induced inhibition of growth in wheat'

Newton UK-Mexico partnership BB/S012834/1 'Exploiting night-time traits to improve wheat yield and water use efficiency in the warming climate of North-western Mexico' 2019-2022 (extended to 2023). .

BBSRC responsive mode grant BB/R004633/1 'The 4-dimensional plant: enhanced mechanical canopy excitation for improved crop performance'. 2017-2020 (extended into 2021). .

EU Co-ordinated and Support Action (CSA), 'CropBoosterP', £50K, 2018 - 2022

Wider and faster: high-throughout phenotypic exploration of novel genetic variation for breeding high biomass and yield in wheat, International Wheat Yield Partnership and BBSRC. 2016-2019

Measurement of Plant Growth and Health in LED horticulture (MePGHOL), Innovate UK, 2013-2017.

As Co-I:

Indo-UK Centre for the improvement of Nitrogen use Efficiency in Wheat (INEW), BBSRC funded2016-2019

SCPRID, Exploiting wheat alien introgressions for increased photosynthetic productivity, BBSRC, India ministry of science and technology, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2013-2017

Current Lab members

Dr Jordan Robson

Dr Lorna McAusland

Laura Briers

Kellie Smith

Tanvir Ahammed

Carlos Robles Zazueta

Sophie Cowling

Lab Alumni:

Alexandra Burgess

Hayley Smith

Kannan Chinnathambi

Alexandra Burgess (2013)

Tiara Herman

Umar Mohammed

Aryo Feldman

Stanley Noah

Liang Zhao

Rea Antoniou Kourounioti Mohamed Ahamadeen Mubarak Nagoor

Ajigboye Olubukola

Ian Smillie

Previous funded projects :

Genetic Manipulation of photoprotection and photooxidative stress tolerance in rice (BBSRC Grant BB/G003157/1)

Removing the inefficiencies of 3-dimensional canopy photosynthesis by the manipulation of leaf light response dynamics and architecture (BBSRC grant BB/J003999/1) 2012-2015

What is photoprotection and why is it important for crop photosynthesis ?

Photoprotection refers to a suite of regulatory chloroplast processes which are induced when the amount of light absorbed exceeds that which can be utilized in photosynthesis. They are thought of as 'protective' because they prevent the over-excitation of chlorophyll which increases the likelihood of reactions with molecular oxygen and hence oxygen radical production. They cause a down-regulation of photosynthesis and the quantum yield of CO2. Non-photochemical quenching' or NPQ is integrated closely with photochemical processes and essentially help to regulate the balance between the harvesting of light energy and the harmless dissipation of excitation energy within the chloroplast. Models have shown that delayed recovery of NPQ should result in a reduction of canopy carbon gain of up to 30 %.

Two components of NPQ are the xanthophyll cycle and the thylakoid membrane protein PsbS. Recent work suggests that these regulate different aspects of NPQ , with PsbS responsible for a shift between light-harvesting and dissipative states, and the xanthophyll cycle altering the rate of induction and relaxation of NPQ.

We are analyzing rice plants which have been transformed to possess altered levels of PSBS and xanthophyll cycle pool sizes and hence altered patterns of NPQ. We are quantifying leaf photosynthesis in fluctuating light levels and apply this knowledge to canopy - level studies and test the current models of canopy carbon gain.

Xanthophyll cycle carotenoids such as zeaxanthin are also powerful membrane anti-oxidants and increased pool sizes have been shown to improve tolerance to high light and temperature stress. We will test this effect in rice plants.

Recent Publications

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