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Professor Gail Taylor BSc, PhD, FRSB

Part-time Professor of Plant and Environmental Sciences based at The University of California, Davis, Principal Investigator of externally funded projects (Plants & Environment)

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Professor Gail Taylor is a leader in Plant and Sustainability Science, where her research focuses on the challenges of sustainable energy and food production and adaptation of biological systems to the changing climate.

Since 2017, she has been based at The University of California, Davis, where she is Professor and Chair of the Department of Plant Sciences.

Never before has research on green plants been so critical to developing a sustainable future – we need them for food and low carbon energy and in delivering a wide range of ecosystem services in a biodiverse landscape.

She joined the University of Southampton in 1999 and has held several positions in the university including Director of Research for Biological Sciences (2012-2015) and Chair of the university-wide multidisciplinary Energy research group. She works as part of the UK Energy Research Centre, and sits on several international panels for research assessment including in Finland, Canada and France.

Professor Taylor has a global reputation for her research on sustainable bioenergy and leafy food crops and has published more than 150 journal articles on this topic and has trained over 50 PhD students. She recently led a 23 partner European consortium that aimed to bring the latest molecular and DNA sequencing technologies to the development of non-food bioenergy crops for Europe including elephant grass, giant reed and poplar trees that can be grown on marginal land. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology and in 2015 was nominated as a member of The Company of The Annals of Botany – the longest running general plant biology journal. She is Chair and Director of the Vitacress Conservation Trust – a Trust dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of chalk streams, where she focuses her own research on using genomic tools for the sustainable intensification of watercress – developing a food crop with better nutritional and health benefits whilst having a reduced environmental footprint.

Career history

2017: Appointed as Professor and Chair (Head) of the Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, routinely voted number 1, globally, for Plant Sciences.
2017: Appointed to the REF panel for Biological Sciences, for the 2021 assessment.
2015: Appointed as one of the ten Botanists that are The Annals of Botany Company to run two journals and develop the Charitable Trust – the longest running general plant science journal, globally.
2013: Appointed member of the Athena Swan Committee for Biological Sciences.
2012-2015: Appointed Director of Research for Biological Sciences, University of Southampton- to advance all aspects of research activity and productivity in Biosciences, to develop research strategy, monitor research performance, manage research infrastructure and administer budgets for equipment servicing and replacement. To be part of leadership team for REF.
2012-2015: Appointed to the RCEP Steering Committee.
2010: Appointed to the Bioenergy Strategy Advisory Group of the Energy Technology Institute to develop future strategies for bioenergy R,D and development in the UK.
2009-2019: Appointed member of the UK Energy Research Centre, Research Committee for distribution of funding on interdisciplinary energy research.
2008-2015: Appointed Chair, Multi-disciplinary group for Energy Research, University of Southampton.
2007-2008: Visiting Professor and member of The Porter Alliance for expertise on Bioenergy. Imperial College London, UK.
2006: Chairman and Director. The Vitacress Conservation Trust. An educational and research trust to ensure preservation and enhancement of chalk streams for conservation and wildlife
2004: Professor of Plant and Environmental Biology. University of Southampton.
1999-2004: Senior Lecturer and Reader. Plant and Environmental Biology, University of Southampton.
1990-1999: Lecturer and Senior Lecturer (1997). Plant Biology, University of Sussex.

Academic qualifications

1983: B.Sc. Lancaster, Biological Sciences with specialism in Environmental Science, Plant Biology and Genetics.
Ph.D. NERC funded on a PhD “Control of leaf growth by light”, supervised by Professor Bill Davies, Distinguished Professor, Lancaster Environment Centre.
2012: FRSB. Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology

Research interests

Gail Taylor has three areas of research interest:

1.    Food for Health and Sustainability: leafy crops molecular breeding

  • I am investigating the genetic basis of leaf quality and yield in lettuce and in molecular breeding for high productivity and improved anti carcinogenic properties in baby leaf crops including watercress. This hinges on interdisciplinary collaboration with Medicine and Chemistry.
  • We are using the latest high throughput genotyping tools, in particular, a single feature polymorphism genotyping chip with more than 20,000 features and RIL and association resources in collaboration with UC Davis. We currently have a marker for phenolic content which is being tested in several commercial crosses, for the first time in the UK in 2015.
  • For watercress, we are sequencing the first watercress genome with RNASeq (now completed) for genotypes of interest to underpin molecular breeding in this crop. We have registered a new watercress, ‘Boldrewood’ and are developing the very first molecular genetic map of watercress and a novel F2 population to underpin new molecular breeding in this nutrient intense crop.
  • This research has been funded by industry since 1999, through several CASE collaborations and a BBSRC IPA award. We currently receive funds from Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s Supermarkets PLC, Shamrock Seeds, Vitacress Salads. Our new collaboration with Vilmorin (following acquisition of Shamrock Seeds) is progressing well with a move towards high throughput genotyping and phenotyping and GWAS approaches over the coming years.
  • Our latest grant from Sainsbury’s that was won from the Annual Agri-food R and D competition will investigate the potential for reduced water use in the growth of potted and cut herbs. We are using deficit irrigation approaches to reduce the water footprint of herbs and leaf crops.

2.    Sustainable Bioenergy Trees- transition to the low carbon economy

  • I have a wide expertise in the technology development and deployment of biomass for bioenergy including heat, power and liquid fuels, with particular emphasis on the use of trees as sources of sustainable feedstock supply.
  • My research stretches from molecular through to ecosystem services and extends to policy development, but the underlying theme is always to enhance the deployment of sustainable bioenergy systems for a global future with less dependence on fossil fuels.
  • At the molecular level, I hold one of the few F2 population of trees suitable for QTL mapping and have used this extensively to identify areas of the poplar tree genome important for traits related to bioenergy. This includes our current research where we have identified QTL for glucose yield (for bioethanol) and through genetical genomics linked this to a set of target genes for enhance bioethanol production, that we are now investigating using RNAi approaches in both poplar and Arabidopsis. Over the past five years, as part of my leadership on the Executive group of the Network of Excellence, EVOLTREE (Trees as drivers of evolution and diversity), an international collaboration has developed black poplar as an outstanding resource for studying breeding and conservation goals, including those related to bioenergy. We have developed a wide Association Population with more than 1000 individuals, sourced from diverse climatic zones across Europe, have re-sequenced the genome of black poplar using Illumina technology using a panel of fifty genotypes. We have used this resource to identify 2 million black poplar SNPs and have designed a SNP chip for our wide use. This resource is one of the very first for a native European tree and will be of outstanding importance for the next few years, until our ambition to sequence 1000 poplar trees in fulfilled. For bioenergy, from this research I have developed a new EU network WATBIO ( to develop molecular breeding approaches in three bioenergy crops, where limited resources exist – poplar, miscanthus and arundo.
  • At the ecosystem level, research is focused on understanding the carbon balance of bioenergy systems in the UK. Can bioenergy cropping systems have a better greenhouse gas balance than arable crops and grassland and how can they be managed to best effect?
  • At the policy level, work on policy input for bioenergy has included contributions to the original BBSRC 2007 review of bioenergy, current contributions from our yield modelling activity to the UK EMSE Energy model, UK DECC Bioenergy Strategy and DECC Energy modeling, as well as input to UKERC activity in the area of bioenergy developments and input into CCC policy framework for net zero emissions in the UK. Internationally, I am involved with USA-EU twinning activities on LCAs for bioenergy and their use in certification systems for sustainable bioenergy.

3.    Global Climate Change – Adaptation and Mitigation – Molecular Ecology

  • I have a long standing interest in forest ecosystems and climate change. This has been focused on the atmospheric environment and on temperate forests and also on the effects of drought on plant genetics, genomics, function and growth. For ten years, I was PI on one of only four large global forest ecosystem experiments to quantify the impacts of rising atmospheric CO2 on forest ecosystems, and the only experiment outside the USA, where we elucidated many of the fundamental changes in the carbon balance and growth of a fast growing poplar forest, subjected to the conditions of 2050 (POPFACE and EUROFACE). We used this forest ecosystem to identify novel delays in autumnal senescence in response to future CO2 and have elucidated the mechanism responsible for these changes, receiving wide publicity of this research. We have elucidated the evolutionary history of black poplar and adaptation to current rainfall regimes from southern to northern Europe, including identifying novel differences in carbon isotopic signature, genes for stomatal patterning and tree development, that differ between southern and northern black poplar tree populations subjected to different natural drought regimes. It seems likely that adaptation to drought has involved a suite of genetic changes that contrast to trees in northern Europe, adapted to plentiful rainfall and extreme responses to rare drought events.
  • The consequences of our findings for breeding and conservation for European trees in future climates is a focus of future research. In addition to this, for several years I have been developing work on Plantago populations at a high CO2 springs in Italy, subjected to high atmospheric CO2 for many generations where we are assessing the potential of CO2 to act as a selective pressure for adaptation – identifying key genes for future change.
PhD Supervision
NameProject TitleFunding/ScholarshipStatus
Lauren Hibbert  Developing watercress that in phosphate use efficient and sweet Vitacress Salads – industry funded Ongoing
Felipe Becerra-Sanchez Understanding and managing browning after cooking in sweetcorn Barfoots – industry funded Ongoing
Elizabeth Arnold Plant breeding and food safety – potential of the microbiome BBSRC with CASE partner, Vitacress Salads Ongoing
Libby Rowland More crop per drop: reducing water use in potted and cut herbs. Sainsbury’s Supermarket – industry funded Ongoing
Kevin Staniland Plant adaptation to a high CO2 world Self funded Completed
Jasmine Saban Plant adaptation to a high CO2 world NERC and DTP SPITFIRE funding Completed
Nikol Voutsina Genomics of watercress Vitacress – industry funded Completed
Annabelle Damerum Molecular breeding in lettuce Vitacress – industry funded Completed
Alex Watson-Lazowski Genetic adaptation of Plantago to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide NERC funding Completed
Zoe Harris Sustainable biofuel crops – carbon and soils ETI funding Completed
Jack Townsend The web and the challenge of global climate change WebScience, DTP, EPSRC funding Completed
Joe Jenkins The soil microbiome and carbon mitigation through biochar EU FP7 funding Completed
Mike Allwright Bioethanol from poplar trees BBSRC funding Completed
Reem Ali Al-Dawai The origin of watercress Self funded Completed
Anna Page* Using aubergine domestication as a model for evolution, with a focus on NGS and population genetics University of Southampton funding Completed

*As co-supervisor

Research group

Ecology and Evolution

Affiliate research groups

Plants and Food Security , Ecology and Evolution, Institute for Life Sciences (IfLS), Clean Carbon Interdisciplinary Group , Autonomous unmanned Vehicles Research Group

Research project(s)

Development of improved perennial non-food biomass and bioproduct crops for water-stressed environments (WATBIO)

Working on three novel non-food crops for bioenergy applications, we are using the latest RNA-Seq and Genome Wide Association Studies to identify genes linked to traits for improved water use efficiency.

Addressing the Valuation of Energy and Nature Together (ADVENT)

ADVENT seeks to explore future UK low-carbon energy pathways and quantify their differing implications for stocks of natural capital (e.g. groundwater and natural habitats) and for the provision of ecosystem services (e.g. irrigation, visual amenity, recreation).

More crop per drop

Reducing the water footprint and increasing shelf life of potted and cut herb production in the UK.


Measurement and Analysis of bioenergy greenhouse gases: integrating GHGs into LCAs and the UK Biomass Value Chain Modelling Environment

Bioenergy value chains: Whole systems analysis and optimisation

Bioenergy is a complex and sometimes controversial subject. This project integrates models of different aspects of the UK bioenergy supply chains across multiple scales. The resulting tool will provide guidance to decision makers about the complex social and environmental impacts of differing bioenergy strategies to aid policy development.

Mapping the supply and demand of bioenergy in Great Britain to 2050

This project explores the potential use of bioenergy crops across GB, looking at feasibility, sustainability implications, and constraints on production opportunities, in relation to current and future demand for energy.


Understanding processes determining soil carbon balances under perennial bioenergy crops.

Adaptive differences in response to flooding in Populus alba and Populus tremula

Utilising Populus to assess the flood tolerance mechanisms in repeated anoxic flooding events.

Mechanism for delayed senescence in Populus in a high CO2 world

Investigating Novel Genes in Poplar for Improved Cell Wall Disassembly

Improving the properties of Poplar as a raw material for bioethanol production.

Harnessing the Genetic Diversity of Watercress (Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum) for Improved Morphology and Anti-cancer Benefits: Underpinning Data for Molecular Breeding.

Establish a collection of watercress sourced from around the world and breed watercress that not only has a reduced stem length but is also nutritionally beneficial therefore breed an ‘ideal' watercress cultivar.

Improving the sustainability of water use in baby leaf salad crops

Using quantitative genetics and infra-red imaging to improve the sustainability of water use in baby leaf salad agriculture.

CleanWeb - the Web as an enabler of environmental sustainability

This research is exploring the potential for internet technologies & data to help tackle major environmental challenges such as climate change. 

EuroChar: Development of technologies for long-term carbon sequestration

Investigating Biochar application as a potential solution to climate change - quantifying the carbon sequester capacity  and its effect on plant yield. It has been suggested that biochar could offset up to 12 % of GHG emissions, thus reducing global climate change, but there is limited evidence base on which to make generalisation and EUROCHAR addresses these gaps.

Improving the quality of lettuce (Lactuca sativa) using a molecular breeding approach

Developing nutritionally enhanced lettuce with improved shelf life.

Physiology, genetics and genomics of drought adaptation in Populus

Using physiology and genetics to investigate adaptation to drought in two populations of Populus.

Sustainable urban planning decision support for urban planning BRIDGE

Modelling the green spaces in two European cities to determine how vegetation can be managed for optimum pollution mitigation.


The Evolution of Trees as drivers of terrestrial biodiversity

ENERGYPOPLAR: Understanding traits for bioenergy in poplar

Traits for poplar for bioenergy applications

Popyomics - Dormant

Linking physiology, molecular genetics and genomics to understand and manipulate yield and disease resistance in Populus for biomass and timber across Europe

Using Next Generation Sequencing to understand acclimation and adaption of Plantago lanceolata to a changing environment

Using NGS to investigate novel acclimations and adaptions to elevated atmosphere CO2 in Plantago lanceolata to help explain what the future environment holds for plants.

Implications of drought conditions for microbial soil ecology: a metagenomic approach

Using NGS technology and bioinformatics techniques to better understand the implications of drought for soil microbe communities.  

TSEC-BIOSYS (2006-2009) A whole systems approach to bioenergy demand and supply in the UK - Dormant

UKERC (2004-2009) – The UK Energy Research Centre - Dormant

A global framework for quantifying the ecosystem service impacts of oil and biofuel production

The main objective of this 2 year project is to develop a way of comparing the impact on ecosystem services of two very different sources of transport fuel - biofuels and petroleum.

Parallel domestication as a model to understand the repeatability of phenotypic evolution

Are the same genes involved when evolutionary processes occur more than once?

Developing the genomic resources underpinning molecular breeding in watercress (Nasturtium officinale)

Developing a breeding program for a unique crop.

Population genomics of plant adaptation to elevated CO2

Using plants from a natural CO2 as a model to study the long term responses of plants to atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations predicted for the end of the 21st Century.

Measuring and optimising multiple ecosystem services provided by chalk streams

Understanding the links between lettuce leaf phenotypes and the abundance and diversity of microbes with a view to breeding for improved shelf life and safety

Vitacress Research Unit: Improving the quality and healthy-giving benefits of baby salad leaves

Supporting the sustainable production of high quality baby leaf salad and herb species. We are one of Europe's leading suppliers of fresh produce, specialising in watercress, salads and fresh herbs.


2018-2021  Appointed to sub-panel 5, Biological sciences, for the Research Excellence Framework Assessment, UK

2018  Member of the Advisory Group to consider the review by Committee on Climate Change on Bioenergy, published Nov 2018

2017  Appointed Chair (head of department), Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis

2016-2021  NERC Peer Review College

2015  Appointed as one of the ten Botanists that are The Annals of Botany Company, to run two journals and develop the Charitable Trust – the longest running general plant science journal, globally

2015-2018  Chair, Academy of Finland, Expert Evaluation committee for Plant Sciences

2015-2016  Expert reviewer for Genome Canada

2013-  Appointed for a new term as Academic Line manager for six academic members of staff including three probationers

2013-  Appointed member of the Equality and Diversity Committee for Biological Sciences

2010-2017  Appointed to the Bioenergy Strategy Group, of the Energy Technology Institute to develop future strategies for bioenergy R,D and development in the UK

2014-  Appointed as consultant to EON to work on the water-use impacts of growing bioenergy trees across Europe

2013-2016  ANR, French National Research Agency, Expert evaluation Committee for research of the ANR Programme.

2014  Academy of Finland Expert Evaluation Committee, Academy of Finland research programme.

2015  Genome Canada Expert reviewer for Genome Canada

2015  Organiser, Perennial Bioenergy Conference, an International Perennial Bioenergy Conference, Germany ‘Perennial biomass crops in a resource constrained world’ Key note plenary speaker – ‘Bioenergy trees: genetics and genomics to fill the yield gap’

2014  TEDx Talk March 2014 TED talk on ‘The case for GM bioenergy trees-can they be sustainable?’. As part of the TEDx event ‘Flourishing in the 21st Century’

2014  1st International Bioenergy Conference – organizer, Manchester March 2014 One of the organisers of an international conference that attracted over 300 delegates to the UK to discuss all aspects of bioenergy and the bioeconomy

2010  Visiting Professor March 2010 Kuala Lumpur. Visiting Professor for UKM to advise on bioenergy and forest research – genomics and genetics.


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Gail Taylor has no teaching commitments at Southampton at this time.

My research has significant impact. Research on sustainable bioenergy is being used by policy makers and UK Government. We have developed the first process-based model that can predict the yield of willow and poplar for the UK in current and future climates and this has been soft-coupled to a soil model that is able to predict the greenhouse gas emissions from our system. These data have been used in the ETI/DECC Energy System Modelling Environment (ESME) and reported in ETI Highlights, in order to develop the UK Fifth Carbon Budget and other tools for scenarios that move the UK towards a low carbon economy and ensure that we meet our emissions reductions targets as demanded by the Climate Change bill. More recently these data underpin our latest project ADVENT – Addressing the Valuation of Energy and Nature together – where we are developing a spatial model for the UK that  places a monetary value ecosystem services of relevance to land-based policy making for farmers and others in a post-brexit UK.

My research on leafy green and herb crops has produced novel germplasm that is now being exploited commercially. Following several years of research we have produced the first transcriptome profiling data of watercress, established the first mapping population to F2 and have registered our first novel watercress accession for commercialisation, called ‘Boldrewood’. Much of our research on leafy crops is in collaboration with industry. In a Sainsbury's funded project we have reduced the woot use in baby leaf herbs using deficit irrigation and are now helping to implement a remote sensing system using thermal images and the crop water stress index to control irrigation carefully and save water.

Gail is a Principal Investigator of several externally funded projects on bioenergy trees and leafy green herb and salad crops, alongside research on global climate change.

Below are extensive portfolios of the funded research:

NERC, ADVENT – co-I on a NERC consortium to bring energy researcher and valuing nature approaches – (2015-2020), £2.2 M and two PhD studentships

EPSRC, MAGLUE – Lead PI on an EPSRC Bioenergy Challenge project – (2015-2018), £1.2M FEC

EPSRC, UKERC Phase III – Core funding to consider future energy scenarios and ecosystem service impacts, £200,000 (2014-2019)

NERC, UKERC Phase III Synthesis Activity, £33,000

Sainsbury’s Agriculture R and D competition, ‘More crop per drop’ – to reduce the water footprint of potted and cut herbs, £155,000 (2013-2017)

EPSRC, Bioenergy Challenge. Systems modelling of the bioenergy system with land-use for the UK

WATBIO, FP7– coordinating a 22 partner consortium on Drought tolerance in bioenergy crops, € 9 million (2012-2017)

EUROCHAR – partner in a new FP7 project to assess the impacts of biochar on soil carbon sequestration and bioenergy tree growth £365,000 (2011-)

EXPEER – European FP7 network on ecosystem manipulation experiments £230,000 (2011-)

BIOENERGY ELUM – Energy Technology Institute funded, UK project on soil processes during land use change to bioenergy £400,000 (2011-2014)

BIOENERGY Value Chain – Energy Technology Institute funded, UK project, £75,000 (2011)

NERC, UKERC, Ecosystems service impacts of international biofuels, £300,000 (2012-2014)

NERC, UKERC, Bioenergy supply, spatial mapping to 2050, £120,000 (2011-2013)

NERC, Carbo-BioCrop, Leader of a £1.12 million consortium, £140,000 to GT (2010-2014)

Vitacress and Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd – fully funded PhD (2009), £60,000

Professor Gail Taylor
School of Biological Sciences
Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences
Life Sciences Building 85
University of Southampton, Highfield Campus
Southampton SO17 1BJ

Room Number: 85/6057

Professor Gail Taylor's personal home page
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