2021 start

Plant and Microbial Biology

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, Faculty of Science

Research plants and microbes in the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences or take an industrial placement as part of this research-focussed course.
Plant Sciences student

Course description

Plants and microbes are fundamental to food security, as well as being central to global ecosystems. At Sheffield we study them from every angle: from the molecular level up to whole organisms, in the context of ecosystems, industry and major global challenges.

Our world-class research expertise spans topics including plant development, plant biotechnology, soil health, genomics, food security, sustainable agriculture, photosynthesis, plant-microbe interactions, plant immunology, and climate change biology, allowing you to examine the effects of past, present and future climates on plants and the wider environment.

It is possible for students with a particular interest in agricultural or horticultural research to complete their MRes project at other organisations, including Enza Zaden in the Netherlands or Rothamsted Research in the UK.

Research experience

This research-focused MRes course allows you to spend an academic year embedded in one of our research groups, working alongside students and staff who are at the forefront of their research field. Throughout your course, you’ll develop your research skills, giving you the opportunity to contribute new knowledge in your chosen area.

Whether you complete your research in the field, the lab or in industry, in the UK or abroad, you’ll be provided with a research budget for your project. Previous students have conducted research in conjunction with our industrial partners, as well as in research groups at the University of Sheffield.

Example research projects include:

  • Leaf anatomy contributes to the control of leaf water content and subsequent adaptation to low temperature in C4 grasses
  • CO2 fertilisation limited by multiple factors in two phosphorus deficient grasslands
  • Characterisation of novel desaturation in arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi

How to apply

Because of the research-intensive nature of this course, we ask you to include a short supporting statement with your application. This should explain how your interests and experience relate to the plant and microbial biology research we do in the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, which particular supervisors or research groups you would be most interested in working with and if you'd like to be considered for a placement.

Please submit your application by 15th August if you require a student visa and by 31st August if you do not require a visa.

Apply now

Potential supervisors

Choose a subject area:

Plant ecology and evolution
  • Dr Holly Croft - Remote sensing of terrestrial ecosystems, from the leaf to the globe. Drones; plant physiology and plant-environment interactions
  • Dr Pascal-Antoine Christin - Genomic origins and ecological consequences of novel adaptations in plants
  • Dr Helen Hipperson - Applying genomic techniques to answer questions in plant and soil biology, ecology, evolution, conservation and population genomics
  • Dr Maria Val Martin - Atmospheric composition, air pollution and atmosphere-biosphere-climate interactions;  land-based CO2 strategies to mitigate climate change and reach net zero emissions
  • Professor Gareth K Phoenix - Impacts of climate change and pollution on biodiversity, biogeochemical cycling, and the consequences for ecosystem feedback to climate, particularly in Arctic, northern boreal and upland (mainly grassland) ecosystems
  • Professor Charles H Wellman - Evolution of land plants over geological time, with emphasis on their origin and early diversification
  • Professor Colin P Osborne - How evolution leads to physiological diversity in wild plants and the significance of physiological differences for ecological behaviour. Photosynthesis, growth, climate change and sustainability are central themes, as is the significance of physiological responses for ecosystems
  • Professor Jonathan R Leake - Plant-soil functioning in sustainable agriculture, including management options to improve soil biology, soil structure, carbon sequestration and crop performance and guide agri-environmental policy for soil sustainability
Plant-microbe or plant-environment interactions
  • Dr Stuart Campbell - Plant chemical and molecular ecology; secondary metabolite diversity and function; plant-insect interactions in wild species and crops; mechanisms and consequences of self-incompatibility
  • Dr Stephen A Rolfe - Plant-microbe interactions: advanced imaging techniques (plant phenomics), plant interactions with beneficial microbes, foliar and root pathogens
  • Professor Katie Field - Evolution, diversity and ecophysiology of plant-fungal symbioses (mycorrhizas) and responses to global change; applications in sustainable agriculture
  • Professor Jurriaan Ton - Plant environmental signalling: molecular perception and signalling of resistance-inducing chemicals, epigenetic basis of plant immunity, biochemical and genetic basis of plant-beneficial rhizosphere interactions
  • Professor Duncan Cameron - Resolving resource fluxes and chemical signals in plant-microbe symbioses in both agricultural and natural systems. Application of metabolomics and isotope tracers to understand the mechanisms underpinning symbiosis and microbial evolution
Plant development
  • Dr Sam Amsbury - Plant cell walls: combining biochemistry, antibody technology, molecular biology and advanced imaging to understand the regulation of cell wall structure and composition in relation to stresses and the impacts this has on plant performance
  • Dr Lisa Smith - Plant development, genetics and molecular biology: cell-to-cell signalling during fertilisation, kinesin function during reproduction, and cell division suppression in crops
  • Professor Andrew Fleming - Plant development: combining cell and molecular biology, physiology, mechanics, advanced imaging and computational modelling to understand leaf structure and function
Microbial biology
  • Dr Ellie Harrison - Ecology and evolution of plant associated microbial communities. Specifically, how communities are shaped by mobile genetic elements and horizontal gene transfer
  • Dr Ian Lidbury - Microbial ecophysiology in the plant microbiome. Organic phosphorus and polysaccharide cycling. Studying individual genes and their proteins to whole microbial communities in order to develop sustainable agricultural practices
  • Dr Helen Hipperson - Applying genomic techniques to answer questions in plant and soil biology, ecology, evolution, conservation and population genomics
  • Professor Tim Daniell - Plant interaction with soil communities including mycorrhiza and impacts on soil nitrogen cycling.  Linking soil function and community dynamics


Explore modules

The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption. We are no longer offering unrestricted module choice. If your course included unrestricted modules, your department will provide a list of modules from their own and other subject areas that you can choose from.


You’ll learn through a mixture of working in a research laboratory or on a field-based research project, tutorials, discussion groups, attendance at seminars, and statistics and other workshops.


Assessment includes, but is not limited to, a project report, literature review, critiques, short reports and essays and oral presentations.


1 academic year full-time

Your career

This degree provides an ideal springboard for a research career in your chosen field, including crop and soil science, evolutionary and behavioural research, genomics and related technologies, and ecological and environmental research. Past students have gone on to study for PhDs both in Sheffield and elsewhere, as well as taking up positions in government science, environmental consultancy and industry.

Student profile

Plant and microbial biology student

I completed my research project at Rothamsted Research, one of the oldest agricultural research institutions in the world. The placement  allowed me to gain experience in working in an industrial setting rather than the academic setting I experienced during my undergraduate studies. I have been able to work independently in the laboratory, whilst drawing upon the knowledge of others around me to develop my work.

Emily Shone

MRes Plant and Microbial Biology

Entry requirements

A 2:1 BSc honours degree, or equivalent, in biology or a closely related quantitative subject. In addition, you should be able to demonstrate evidence of aptitude and enthusiasm for research eg an undergraduate research project.

Overall IELTS score of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component, or equivalent.

We also accept a range of other UK qualifications and other EU/international qualifications.

If you have any questions about entry requirements, please contact the department.


Because of the research-intensive nature of this course, we ask you to include a short supporting statement with your application. Please see the course description above for more details.

Apply now

+44 114 222 0123

Any supervisors and research areas listed are indicative and may change before the start of the course.

Recognition of professional qualifications: from 1 January 2021, in order to have any UK professional qualifications recognised for work in an EU country across a number of regulated and other professions you need to apply to the host country for recognition. Read information from the UK government and the EU Regulated Professions Database.

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