Professor Colin Osborne

Dr Colin Osborne

Tel: +44 (0)114 222 0146


Room C214, Alfred Denny Building

Lab webpage:



BSc (1992) University of Manchester;
PhD (1996) University of Essex.
Postdoc (1996 - 2002), University of Sheffield.
Royal Society University Research Fellow (2002 - 2010) University of Sheffield.
The Founder's Prize (2008) British Ecological Society.
Senior Lecturer (2008 - 2011) University of Sheffield.
Reader in Plant Biology (2012 - 2014) University of Sheffield.
Associate Director, Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Sheffield (2014-2018)
Departmental Director for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (2018-present)
Professor of Plant Biology (2015 - present) University of Sheffield

Research and Teaching

Grass Leaf Cross Section

Photosynthesis and plant growth underpin life on Earth and support crop production that feed billions. However, productivity varies more than tenfold among plants because external environmental resources become limiting in particular places or times, and internal physiological processes differ in each species and crop variety.

Our research aims to understand how these environmental and internal factors limit plant productivity, how evolution and crop breeding have overcome the limitations, and the importance of productivity for the biology of plants in wild ecosystems and cultivated fields.

Following a long tradition in plant environmental physiology, our work spans scales ranging from genes to the globe, and utilizes a broad spectrum of approaches. Right now, we have a particular emphasis on comparative experiments and global geographical analyses, though we’re beginning to broaden out to do more fieldwork. We are doing work on the evolution and ecology of C 4 plants, the domestication of crops, the control of growth by source and sink strengths, and the recruitment of trees into grasslands. You'll find more information on this work at:

These research interests are reflected in my teaching. I coordinate two undergraduate modules. At level two, Ecosystems in a Changing Global Environment (APS231) explores the functioning and diversity of the world's ecosystems, and considers the historical and future impacts of climate change and land use. At level three, Global Change (APS313) examines interactions between life and the Earth system through geological history, looking at human impacts on the climate system and their implications for our lives. Level three and four undergraduate research projects in my lab look at functional aspects of plant biology, and typically take a comparative approach to investigate the mechanisms underpinning diversity in plant form and function.

Professional Activities

External Examiner, BSc Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge (2019-present)
External Examiner, BSc Plant Sciences, Trinity College, Dublin (2018-present)
External Examiner, BSc Ecological Sciences, University of Edinburgh (2012-2016)
Convenor of the Plant Environmental Physiology group of the SEB and BES (2012-2016)
Editorial Board, Proceedings of The Royal Society, Series B (2012-present)
Origins of Grasslands Working Group Coordinator, National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), USA (2011-2012)
Advisory Group Member, Royal Society Global Science Report (2010-2011)
Grass Phylogeny Working Group Member, NESCent, USA (2010-2011)
Plants Committee Member, Society for Experimental Biology, UK (2010-2013)
Director, GrassPortal: ecological and evolutionary informatics system (2009-present)
Catalysis Meeting Coordinator, NESCent, USA (2009)
Co-Chair, British-German Frontiers of Science Symposium, Potsdam (2008)
Selection Panel Member, Royal Society Summer Studentships (2005)
Co-organizer, Departmental Seminar Programme (2004-2014)

Research Group

Kim Simpson (postdoc, 2019-present) 'Does physiological innovation change the fundamental relationships between growth and survival?' NERC.

PhD Students

Bong Salazar (2019-present) ‘Quantifying source and sink limitations to apple crop productivity’, Philippine government scholarship.

Suma Mani (2018-present) ‘Impacts of savanna tree encroachment on livelihoods, water and carbon’. Scholarship from the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures.

Vian Mohammad (2013-present) 'Evolution of herbicide resistance in weeds'.

Teera Watcharamongkol (2014-present) 'Evolution of ecological adaptations in grasses'

Beth Holland (2015-present) 'Intermediate complexity models of plant metabolism and growth', Leverhulme.

Florentine Weber (2017-present) co-supervisor. ‘Why is the atmosphere becoming drier? The roles of atmospheric processes and vegetation feedbacks, and their implications for future climate change’. Scholarship from the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures.

Lamiaa Munshi (2016-present) co-supervisor. ‘Evolution of C 4 photosynthesis in Mollugo’. Saudi government scholarship.

Lab Alumni

Ellie McLaren (Technician, 2016-2019) Zoo keeper.

Ruth Wade (Postdoc, 2016-2018) Crop research consultant, ADAS agricultural consultancy.

Emma Jardine (PhD, 2013-2017) Postdoc, iDiv Jena, Germany.

Angela White (PhD 2012-2016) Postdoc, Brookhaven National Lab, USA.

Marjorie Lundgren (PhD, 2011-2015) Leverhulme Research Fellow, Lancaster University.

Catherine Preece (Postdoc, 2011-2014) ERC Research Fellow, CREAF, Barcelona, Spain.

Rebecca Atkinson (Postdoc, 2011-2014) Sustainable business owner, Sheffield.

Georg Frenck (Postdoc, 2011-2014) Postdoc, University of Innsbruck, Austria.

Elizabeth Carabine (PhD, 2010-2014) Research Officer, Overseas Development Institute.

Millie Mockford (Technician, 2011-2013) University Teacher, University of Sheffield.

Thomas Kluyver (PhD, 2009-2013) Postdoc, University of Southampton, UK

Hui Liu (PhD 2008-2011) Postdoc, South China Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Russell Hall (2010-2019) 'Evolution of ecological diversity in grasses'

Vernon Visser (Postdoc 2009-2011, PhD 2005-2009) Research Fellow, University of Stellenbosch

Liaquat Ali Bhutto (PhD 2007-2010) Botanist, Agriculture Department, State of Sindh, Pakistan

Sam Taylor (Postdoc 2006-2010) Postdoc, University of Lancaster, UK

Steve Hulme (Technician 2006-2009) Radiographer

Jennifer Cunniff (PhD 2005-2009) BBSRC, UK Research and Innovation.

Meizhen Liu (Research Fellow 2006-2007) Associate Professor, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Doug Ibrahim (PhD 2003-2007) Management Consultant, Credo Business Consulting

Emily Wythe (Technician 2004-2005) Secondary School Teacher