Professor Katie J Field

School of Biosciences

Professor of Plant-Soil Processes

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Professor Katie J Field
School of Biosciences
A01 Lab A10
Arthur Willis Environment Centre
Maxfield Avenue
S10 1AE
  • June 2020 - present: Professor of Plant-Soil Processes, School of Biosciences, University of Sheffield
  • July 2019 – May 2020: Professor of Plant-Soil Interactions, School of Biology, University of Leeds
  • Oct. 2017 – June 2019: Associate Professor in Plant-Soil Processes, School of Biology, University of Leeds
  • Jan. 2016 – 2021: BBSRC Translational Fellow, School of Biology, University of Leeds
  • Aug. 2015 – 2017: University Academic Fellow in Plant-Soil Processes, School of Biology, University of Leeds
  • Jan. – Jun. 2015: Patrick and Irwin-Packington Fellow, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield
  • 2012 – 2014: Postdoctoral Research Associate (NERC), Researcher/Co-I. Dept. Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield. Collaboration with: NHM London, RGB Kew and Imperial College, London.
  • 2009 – 2012: Postdoctoral Research Associate (NERC), Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield
  • 2005 – 2008: PhD, University of Sheffield
  • 2002 - 2005: BSc, Plant Sciences, University of Durham
Research interests

Plant-fungal symbioses and their applications in sustainable agriculture

Today, it is estimated that more than 80% of land plants, representing over 90% of plant families, form nutritional symbioses with soil-dwelling fungi. These associations are known as ‘mycorrhiza’, or ‘mycorrhiza-like’ in plants without roots. Through these associations, plants assimilate fungal-acquired mineral nutrients from beyond root depletion zones. In return, plants supply their fungal partners with carbohydrates fixed from atmospheric carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.

Many key crop species have been shown to be able to form mutualistic symbioses with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. This is leading to the development of novel approaches in crop breeding and agricultural practices, encouraging the formation of mycorrhizal associations and utilisation of previously plant-inaccessible soil phosphorus pools. Research has shown that the efficiency by which plant-fixed carbon is exchanged for fungal-acquired nutrients is affected by environmental perturbation, such as CO2 concentration. By using combined ecophysiology, metabolomics and isotope tracer techniques, our research aims to expand our understanding of crop-mycorrhiza-environment interactions.

Evolution, diversity and ecology of plant-fungal symbioses

Plant-fungal symbioses date back to when plants first colonized Earth’s landmasses more than 475 million years ago.

Fossil and molecular evidence suggest that the earliest plants to emerge onto the land were likely similar to modern-day liverworts. As such, these tiny plants provide an excellent opportunity for us to understand how mycorrhiza-like associations in the earliest plants may have facilitated plant domination of the terrestrial biosphere.

Recent findings suggest the earliest plants may not have associated with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi of the Glomeromycota as has always been assumed, instead Mucoromycotina may well have been key players in plant terrestrialization. Our latest research has shown that Mucoromycotina Fine Root Endophytes are widespread throughout nearly all modern land plants and may play a different role to other mycorrhizas in plant nutrition.

We are only just starting to understand the true diversity, structure and physiological function of the relationships between plants and their symbiotic fungi. Our research aims to shed new light on the role diverse fungal symbionts may have played in the development and maintenance of Earth’s global ecosystems in the past, present and future.

Current research

  • MYCOREV - A Mycorrhizal Revolution: the role of diverse symbiotic fungi in modern terrestrial ecosystems. ERC Consolidator Grant, (2020-2025)
  • Friend or foe; who wins in the competition for plant resources? Leverhulme Trust (2020-2023)
  • How did the evolution of plants, microbial symbionts and terrestrial nutrient cycles change Earth’s long-term climate?, NERC (2019-2022)
  • LOCKED UP: The role of biotic and abiotic interactions in the stabilisation and persistence of soil organic carbon, NERC (2019-2022)
  • Philip Leverhulme Prize in Biological Sciences 2017, Leverhulme Trust (2018-2021)
  • AFRICAP – Agricutural and Food-system Resilience: Increasing Capacity and Advising, GCRF (2017-2021)
  • Interactions between crops, arbuscular mycorrhizas and CO2, BBSRC (2016-2021)

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