The hidden half of plant biology has been an enduring interest throughout Malcolm Bennett's research career. Over the last several decades his team has characterised many of the regulatory signals, genes and mechanisms that control root growth and development. Highlights include identifying the first auxin transport protein described in plants termed AUX1 which controls root gravitropism (Bennett et al, 1996, Science); and elucidating how plant roots respond to gradients of water availability termed hydrotropism (Dietrich et al, 2017, Nature Plants).
Over the last decade, Malcolm has embraced a systems biology approach to study root development, helping establish the BBSRC/EPSRC Centre for Plant Integrative Biology (CPIB) at Nottingham University. Highlights include elucidating how hormones like auxin control root growth and branching (Band et al, 2012, PNAS; Swarup et al, 2008, Nature Cell Biology). Recognising the importance of studying root responses in their natural soil environment, Malcolm has recently led efforts at CPIB to non-invasively image root responses using X-ray based microCT (Morris et al, 2017, Current Biology). A BBSRC Professorial Research Fellowship (2010) and ERC Advanced Investigator (2012) awards have enabled Malcolm and colleagues to build a multidisciplinary research team and a unique research platform termed the Hounsfield Facility to achieve this goal. Highlights include discovering a novel root adaptive response in soil termed hydropatterning, where roots only branch when in contact with water (Bao et al, 2014, PNAS).
Malcolm has published over 180 research papers and review articles about root growth and development and is ranked in the top 1% most highly cited animal and plant biologists (Thomson Reuters). His research activities have attracted several awards including a Royal Society Wolfson Research Fellowship (2013) and election as a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO; 2014). He is also co-chair of the Working Group on Root Phenotyping of the International Plant Phenotyping Network.