Dr Heather Whitney


I am primarily interested in how the structure of the plant surface can influence both biotic and abiotic interactions. I use a range of techniques to investigate these interactions including plant molecular biology, optical analysis, biomimetics and animal behavioural assays.


I did my first degree at Imperial College London (Plant Sciences BSc Hons, 1998). I moved to the IACR-Long Ashton Research Station, University of Bristol to conduct a PhD under the supervision of Professors Johnathan Napier and John Pickett. This project investigated the production of unusual monounsatuated lipids in the plant Bassia scoparia, which can be used to produce mosquito ovipositioning pheromones.  From Bristol, I moved to the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, where I was employed as a post-doctoral researcher for a cross-disciplinary project between Plant Sciences (Professor Alison Smith), Biochemistry (Professor Tom Blundell) and Chemistry (Professor Chris Abell) investigating the production of pantothenate (vitamin B5) in plants. I stayed in Cambridge to undertake an interdisciplinary post-doctoral position looking at how the petal surface structure influences the behaviour of insect pollinators with Dr Beverley Glover (Dept Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge) and Professor Lars Chittka (Queen Mary, University of London), which gave me the opportunity to use both molecular biology and animal behavioural methods. A six month MRC ‘discipline-hopping’ fellowship in the lab of Professor Ullrich Steiner (Biological and Soft Systems group, Department of Physics, University of Cambridge),  gave me further opportunities to collaboratively develop biomimetic and optical methods for analysing how the plant surface reflects light. I returned to Bristol in 2008 when I was awarded a Lloyd’s of London Tercentenary Trust fellowship. In 2011 I started an ERC starting grant to investigate the production of iridescence in plants.


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