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Department of Genetics


Development and Evolution of Petal Patterning

Key words

Cell fate specification, petal development, pollinators, evolution, flavonoids, Hibiscus, transcriptomics, imaging, modelling

Research interests

Flowering plants often display elaborate patterns on their petals. These patterns are created by combinations of cells that differ in their colour, geometry (size and shape) and cuticle (a waxy layer that protects plant surfaces). To form those patterns accurately, cells in the epidermis need to adopt specific characteristics depending on their position in the petal. Our group combine experimental and theoretical approaches to try and understand (1) what mechanisms plants use to produce these patterns, (2) how evolution tinkers with these mechanisms to generate distinct patterns in different species or populations and (3) how insect pollinators perceive and respond to these different patterns.

We are using a small Hibiscus species, Venice mallow, and its close relatives as model organisms. Our research relies on a broad range of techniques, from molecular genetics, biochemistry and cell biology to phylogenomics (to understand evolutionary relationships) and behavioural experiments (to understand pollinators responses). We also rely extensively on various imaging techniques (light & fluorescence microscopy, electron microscopy and Raman imaging) and modelling approaches.

Why is it important?

Of the top 100 human food crops, 71 are pollinated by insects. Understanding how plants produce features to communicate efficiently with their pollinators has direct impact on our ability to produce food and can inform conservation policy.

To form an accurate pattern, cells must use reliable mechanisms to develop certain characteristics depending on their precise position in the petal. Most cells in any living organisms have to tackle a similar ‘fate decision’ challenge. By using plants to study this process, we are addressing a fundamental question, central to our understanding of how life works.


More information about the Group’s research on:


Page created 31 Oct 2018

Contact details

Group leader : Dr Edwige Moyroud

The Sainsbury Laboratory
Bateman Street
University of Cambridge
Cambridge, CB2 1LR
United Kingdom


Tel.: +44 1223 761163


Group members