Mike Blatt

Regius Professor of Botany


Mike was educated in the USA and Canada, obtaining a dual BSc with honours from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and his Ph.D. from Stanford University where he studied with Winslow Briggs. He was a Fullbright-Hays Graduate Fellow in Germany, a Fellow of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and held a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Yale University Medical School with a National Research Service Award before moving to the University of Cambridge, UK on a NATO Postdoctoral Fellowship. Mike was a Lecturer, Reader, and held a Personal Chair at the University of London, Wye College and Imperial College, London. He took up the Regius Chair of Botany at Glasgow University in 2001 by Royal Warrant, where he heads the Plant Science Group of nine academic colleagues and some 50 postdoctoral and postgraduate researchers and technicians. He is a fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation (USA), the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Royal Society of Biology (London), and the James Hutton Institute. He has held a number of advisory roles and serves within the UK and internationally, including as a founding member of the BBSRC panel of experts, external assessor for the Chilean Science Foundation, NASA (USA), and the Swedish Science Directorate. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the most highly-cited international journal in the field, PLANT PHYSIOLOGY.

Mike appears on People Behind the Science (listen to the interview at http://www.peoplebehindthescience.com/dr-mike-blatt).

Stomatal guard cells

Stomata are pores that facilitate gas exchange across the impermeable cuticle of leaves and stems. They open and close to control gas exchange, most importantly water vapour and CO2, between the interior of the leaf and the atmosphere. Stomata exert major controls on the water and carbon cycles of the world and can limit photosynthetic rates by 50% or more when demand exceeds water supply. Stomatal transpiration is at the centre of a crisis in water availability and crop production that is expected to unfold over the next 20-30 years. Guard cells surround the stomatal pore to regulate stomatal aperture bu coordinating membrane transport within a complex network of intracellular signals to drive guard cell turgor. Our deep knowledge of these processes has made the guard cell one of the best-known plant cells for membrane transport, signalling and homeostasis. The laboratory continues to use guard cells as a model to explore transport and its integration at the cellular level, and to understand its importance for organismal function.

Ion channel structure and function

Plant ion channels, especially members of the Kv channel family, present a number of unique and intriguing problems in biology, from the unusual gating properties and clustering of GORK and SKOR, to the physical interactions of the KAT1 and KC1 K+ channels with several vesicle-trafficking proteins that affect channel gating. Our research centres on the molecular structures behind these channel properties in order to understand the associated mechanisms and their consequences for the plant cell.

Mechanics of vesicle traffic

Homeostasis and growth depend on the control of cell volume and osmolarity. How this control is achieved lies at the very heart of the century-old problem of how plants regulate turgor, mineral and water transport. Vesicle traffic adds membrane surface and contributes to wall remodelling as the cell grows, and they must therefore be coordinated with ion transport. Our previous discoveries of physical interactions between conserved subsets of vesicle-trafficking proteins and ion channels identify a core set of molecular links, previously unanticipated, that are important for this coordination. Current efforts are now directed to understanding the dynamics of this mutual ‘governance’ between vesicle traffic and ion transport.

Systems dynamics of stomatal gas exchange

Transport and metabolism in guard cells are defined by a deep knowledge of the component processes with quantitative kinetic detail at the cellular level. In recent years we developed the OnGuard platform for systems dynamic analysis that builds on this knowledge. The platform has proven exceptionally powerful in predicting the emergent properties of guard cells. We are now expanding this approach to encompass water flux, carbon fixation and gas exchange of the leaf and canopy, thereby providing a direct mechanistic connection to the molecular and kinetic components of the guard cell. Our long-term goal is to enable rational approaches to reverse-engineering of stomatal behaviour and precision agriculture, improving water use efficiency and crop yields.