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Biological Sciences
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Dr Alan Marchant BSc, PhD

Deputy Head of School (Education), Principal Teaching Fellow in Molecular Plant Sciences, Deputy Admissions Tutor, Principal Investigator (Plant cell walls and root development)

Dr Alan Marchant's photo

Dr Alan Marchant is Deputy Head of School (Education), Principal Teaching Fellow in Molecular Plant Sciences within Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton.

Career History

2021: Deputy Head of School (Education). University of Southampton.
2020: Principal Teaching Fellow. University of Southampton.
2018 - 2020: Director of Programmes for Biological Sciences
2016-2020: Senior Teaching Fellow. University of Southampton, UK.
2014-2018: Programme Leader (Biology/Zoology/Ecology/Conservation). University of Southampton, UK.
2007-2016: Lecturer at Biological Sciences. University of Southampton, UK.
2003-2007: Senior Researcher. Umeå Plant Science Center, Sweden.
1994-2002: Postdoctoral Researcher. University of Warwick and University of Nottingham, UK.

Academic Qualifications

1991-1994: PhD. University of Warwick, UK.
1987-1991: BSc Biochemistry. University of Bath, UK.

Research interests

The plant cell wall is important in human nutrition and health as well as forming the raw material for a variety of economic processes such as pulp and paper manufacture, as a construction material in the form of wood and in the production of textiles. Additionally, polysaccharides extracted from cell walls form the basis for a variety of gels, thickeners and adhesives. Increasingly the plant cell wall is being viewed as an important source of biomass for energy production in order to reduce the dependence on non-renewable fossil based fuels. A detailed understanding of processes controlling plant cell wall formation is thus vital in order to improve the potential for biomass production as well as to develop more environmentally friendly processing methods and tailor-made products for specific applications. Despite the undoubted importance of the cell wall both from the perspective of plant development as well as from a human viewpoint, relatively little is current understood about its biosynthesis.

A high proportion of the plant genome is dedicated to the synthesis and breakdown of the cell wall components. An analysis of the Arabidopsis genome has predicted that over 700 genes (around 2.5% of the total genome) encode carbohydrate-active enzyme classes of glycoside hydrolases and glycosyltransferases ( We have utilised both Arabidopsis thaliana and hybrid aspen (poplar) model systems to identify and characterise key genes involved in primary and secondary cell wall biosynthesis. Transcript profiling of the poplar wood forming tissues has identified a number of genes which are upregulated in the zone of cell division and elongation (Hertzberg et al., 2001) and these genes represent candidates to be involved in primary cell wall formation.

Comparative bioinformatics has been used to identify Arabidopsis homologs of a number of these upregulated Poplar transcripts and knockouts obtained using a reverse genetics approach. Several of these mutants display a visible phenotype and work has been undertaken to characterise them and to understand the role that they may play in the synthesis of the cell wall (Singh et al., 2005). The same approach has been used to identify genes upregulated in the zone of secondary cell wall formation (Ubeda-Tomas et al., 2007). A major focus of the lab recently has been to study the function of a group of glycosyltransferases which appear to function to synthesise the hemicellulose glucuronoxylan (GX), a major component of the secondary cell wall (Wu et al., 2009). This has shown that at least 4 of the GX synthesis enzymes have closely related functional homologs providing insight into a potentially complex regulation of their activity. This work is providing valuable new information about the control of secondary growth in plants which will help in improving cell walls as a useful biomaterial for a variety of applications.

Research group

Plants and Food Security

Affiliate research groups

Ecology and Evolution, Institute for Life Sciences (IfLS)

Research project(s)

Developmental function of the RGII component of pectin in plants

We are using a transactivation based approach to alter the abundance of key sugars required for RGII synthesis in different tissues of Arabidopsis.

Characterisation of glycosyltransferases functioning during the synthesis of the secondary cell wall hemicellulose glucuronoxylan

The IRX10, IRX10-Like, IRX14 and IRX14-Like glycosyltransferases are required for GX backbone synthesis

Establishing the developmental function of the pectic component rhamnogalacturonan II (RGII)

Identifying the functions of rhamnogalacturonan II during root development using an inducible RNAi-based gene knockdown approach in Arabidopsis thaliana.

Exploring the influence of the plant lateral root gravitropic set point angle on architecture in soils using X-Ray Computed Tomography

In-Vivo Imaging of Soil, Roots and Root Hairs for Improved Understanding of Phosphate Uptake by Plants

Improving understanding of the uptake of phosphate by plants from soils by imaging root systems using X-Ray Computed Tomography.

X-ray Computed Tomography and image-based modelling of plant roots and nutrient uptake

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Book Chapter

  • Edvardsson, E., Singh, S. K., Yun, M-S., Mansfield, A., Hauser, M-T., & Marchant, A. (2010). The plant glycosyltransferase family GT64: in search of a function. In P. Ulvskov (Ed.), Annual Plant Reviews, Volume 41, Plant Polysaccharides: Biosynthesis and Bioengineering (pp. 285-299). (Annual Plant Reviews; No. 41). Blackwell Publishing.

Module Co-ordinator

BIOL3051 Applied Plant Biology
BIOL2043 Biotechnology and the Living Cell
BIOL1025 Fundamentals of Cell Biology and Physiology 

Teaching Contributions

BIOL1027 The Human Genome and Disease
BIOL1029 Origins of Biodiversity
BIOL2007 Plant Development and Function
BIOL3031 Literature-based research project
BIOL3032 Literature-based research project
BIOL3034 Laboratory research project
BIOL3060 Science Communication
BIOL3073 Bioethics

Dr Alan Marchant
School of Biological Sciences
Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences
Life Sciences Building 85
University of Southampton
Highfield Campus
SO17 1BJ

Room Number : 85/4001

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