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Time to flower


Caroline Dean, John Innes Centre



Caroline Dean has been at the John Innes Centre for 25 years. During this time she has made a huge contribution to our understanding of how cold influences flowering and thus, the regulation of plant reproduction and adaptation. Prolonged cold triggers flowering through an epigenetic process called vernalization, which involves highly conserved chromatin silencing mechanisms.

Caroline is among the top 1% of highly cited scientists across the world, which reflects the importance of her findings to plant biology and their implications for epigenetic mechanisms generally.

Her work has been recognised by election to EMBO, the Royal Society, US National Academy at the Leopoldina Academy. She has been awarded an OBE for services to plant science, the Genetics Society Medal, the BBSRC 20th Anniversary Award for Excellence in Bioscience and, most recently, the prestigious FEBS/EMBO Women in Science Award.

The Dean lab is currently home to 8 postdocs, 2 research assistants and 3 students. They interact extensively with others, particularly Prof. Martin Howard and his group in Dept of Computational and Systems Biology, and Judith Irwin in Dept. Crop Genetics as well as with other researchers in the UK and abroad: Svante Holm at Mid-University Sweden, Torbjorn Sall University of Lund and Karissa Sanbonmatsu at Los Alamos Laboratories, USA.

The Q&A

Advantages of working in a research institute?

Critical mass and excellent facilities
What scientific questions are you currently addressing? And how are you tackling them?
We study the seasonal control of plant developmental transitions — specifically the acceleration of flowering by prolonged cold. This has taken us into the dissection of conserved chromatin pathways underpinning epigenetic switching mechanisms.

How did you become interested in this field of work?

From doing a post-doc in California I got very interested in why plants need prolonged cold to flower.

Why is your research important? Where will it have the greatest impact?

Most plants need cold to flower — the timing of flowering is very important for ecosystem stability — it is also important in crop production.

How long have you been at the Institute? What drew you to JIC?

Twenty-five years — it is the best centre to study fundamental plant biology in the world.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The exhilaration of new results and piecing them together to get mechanistic insight into complex processes.

Are there any advantages of working in a research institute compared with other research environments?

Critical mass and excellent facilities.

What would you say is your greatest scientific achievement?

Figuring out how plants remember they have experienced prolonged cold.

What discovery would most revolutionise your field?

Being able to isolate all proteins/protein modifications and attached RNAs, associated with a single gene in vivo.

Do you have any advice to offer future scientists?

Always follow your passion.



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