Professor Colin Osborne

School of Biosciences

Professor of Plant Biology

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+44 114 222 0146

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Professor Colin Osborne
School of Biosciences
Alfred Denny Building
Western Bank
S10 2TN
  • 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 interests

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.


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Journal articles

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Journal articles


Conference proceedings papers

Research group

Postdoctoral researcher

  • Dr Kim Simpson (postdoc, 2019-present) 'How do global change and functional traits influence savanna woody plant encroachment?' NERC

PhD students

  • Yanmin Zhou (2020-present) 'Wild wheat as a breeding resource for improving crop photosynthesis'. Chinese Scholarship Council.
  • Yixiang Shan (2019-present) 'Influence of domestication on wheat morphology and production'. Chinese Scholarship Council.
  • Kanyanat Kasetsuntorn (2019-present) 'Photoprotection mechanisms of C4 grasses under chilling conditions'. Thai government scholarship.
  • Bong Salazar (2019-present) ‘Quantifying source and sink limitations to apple crop productivity’. Philippines government scholarship.
  • Suma Mani (2018-present) ‘Impacts of planting trees and rewilding on carbon sequestration, flood management and livelihoods in the Peak District’. Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures.
  • Florentine Weber (2017-present) co-supervisor. ‘Why is the atmosphere becoming drier? The roles of atmospheric processes and vegetation feedbacks’. Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures.
  • Vian Mohammad (2013-present) 'Evolution of herbicide resistance in weeds'. Self-funded.

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
Teaching activities

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, 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)