If you made any changes in Pure these will be visible here soon.

Personal profile


Global climate change is resulting in changing weather patterns. For the UK, it is predicted that we will get warmer wetter winters and hotter drier summers. At the same time, there will be an increase in the frequency of extreme weather, including periods of droughts and heat waves, but also more storms and floods. This, combined with growing demand for food across the world, means that agriculture is facing unprecedented challenges. The crops used by farmers will have to change. We will need plants that produce greater yields using fewer chemicals whilst being able to survive extreme weather conditions. Our research is focussed on identifying strategies that can be used to increase the hardiness of crops, while maintaining or increasing yield. In particular we are examining the process of photosynthesis, by which sunlight is used to make the sugars that drive growth. We are investigating how crop plants respond to extreme conditions but also looking at wild plants, with natural stress tolerance, to see what lessons can be learnt from them and to identify traits that might be bred into our crops.


I am currently a senior lecturer, based in the Ecology and Evolution research group in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.  I completed a degree in Biochemistry at the University of Sheffield.  I stayed in Sheffield for my PhD, under the supervision of Peter Horton and Phil Grime, in which I examined the responses of native British plants to different growth lights.  Afterwards, I worked as a NATO research fellow at CE-Saclay, near Paris, and then in the Botanical Institute of the University of Münster, Germany, before coming to Manchester as lecturer in Physiological Plant Ecology.  In 2002-3 I spent a year as a visiting fellow at the Institute for Physico-Chemical Biology (IBPC) in Paris. 

Research interests

Exposure to environmental stresses, e.g. drought or low or high temperature, can have a damaging effect on plants, reducing the sucess of wild species and the productivity of crops. A common feature of most forms of abiotic stress is the production of reactive oxygen species, highly reactive molecules that can damage proteins, lipids and DNA. The aim of my research is to understand the pathways that lead to active oxygen production and how regulatory mechanisms can ameliorate that production. The particular emphasis is on the interaction between light and stress, and how light induces the production of reactive species.

In attempting to understand the mechanisms of regulation, we adopt a multi-disclipinary approach, combining state of the art spectroscopic and biochemical techniques with comparative studies in ecophysiology. We collaborate with colleages in Manchester and elsewhere in studies using metabolomics, proteomics and systems modelling.  Our research is focussing on the responses of plants to their environment on different time scales: 

In the short term, regulatory mechanisms eist that allow plants to control the capture of light and the flow of electrons to avoid production of reactive oxygen.  We were the firrst group to show evidence that plants operate a pathway of cyclic electron flow under steady state conditions.  This pathway is not widely excepted to be responsible to controlling the efficiency of light capture, through a process called non photochemical quenching.  At the same time, we have shown that the redox poise of the chloroplast plays an essential role in controlling electron transport.

Over longer timescales, plants are able to alter the composition of their cloroplasts to suit the prevailing conditions they experience.  We have identified a key transporter involved in signalling between the chloroplast and the nucleus and have shown that this signalling plays a major role in allowing plants to optimise their growth in natural environments, having a major impact on plant yields.

For further details see the lab home page


My teaching is focussed at the interface of plant science, environmental science and ecology.  I am in particular interested in challenging students to see beyond traditional subject boundaries and examine key questions about the environment using approaches from different disciplines.

At first year level, I run a field course to the Mediterranean each spring, to the island of Mallorca.  Mallorca has a unique flora with many endemic species which show particular adaptations to the extreme environment found on the island.  The course combined plant systematics with plant physiology, ecology and environmental science to give students a taste of how ecosystems can be studied, how the organisms evolve and the adaptations they develop.

At second year level, I teach physiological ecology as part of a course on Ecology and Ecosystems.  In addition, I run a field based course on Urban Biodiversity.  In this, we take students to visit sites in the Greater Manchester area and examine how past and present human activites shape the local ecosystem.  The particular focus of this course is teaching skills required in environmental consultancy.



Post doctoral fellowships: No postdoctoral positions are currently available.  If you are interested in applying for your own source of funding, though an international fellowship etc. please get in touch (giles.johnson@manchester.ac.uk).

PhD positions: Funded postions for UK and EU students are advertised annually.  Applications are welcomed from students with their own sources of funding.  If you with to apply for funding and require an offer from the University of Manchester for your applicaiton, please get in touch (giles.johnson@manchester.ac.uk).

We would especially like to encourage interest from students wishing to work on the following projects:

Acclimation of Plants to Light and Temperature.  When plants are exposed to changes in their environment, they go through a process of acclimaiton, changing the composition of their tissues to match the environment.  Recent work in our lab has shown a central role for leaf carbon metabolism in sensing and signalling environmental conditions to control acclimaiton.  We have identified mutants in both light and temperature sensing and oppurtunities are available to characterise this.  One project available would involve characterisation of Arabidopsis plants with alterations in the expression of a putative amylase enzyme, BAM5.  This project would provide training in plant physiology, metabolomics, proteomics and metabolic modelling.

Source sink relations in winter crops.  In temperate regions many crops, such as wheat, barley and oil seed are grown through the winter.  Changing climates are expected to result in this part of the growth season becoming more important in determining final yields.  This project will look at the role of source:sink relations in limiting winter growth with a view to identifying novel targets for crop breeding. This project will provide training in plant physiology and metabolomics.

Role of the Plastid Terminal Oxidase in stress tolerance in plants. Plastid teminal oxidase is a plastoquinone oxidase found in all plants.  In some extremophile species it is suggested to play a role in protecting plants from environmental stress.  Previously we provided evidence that this protein is important in the salt tolerant model plant Eutrema. More recently we have preliminary evidence for a role in barley under drought stress.  A project on this topic would provide training in in vivo spectroscopy, plant physiology, protein biochemistry and molecular biology.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land

External positions

Panel Member, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)


Core panel member, Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)


External Examiner, University College - Cork

1 Oct 201530 Jun 2018

Associate Editor - BMC Plant Biology, BioMed Central Ltd

2015 → …

Areas of expertise

  • QK Botany
  • Q Science (General)
  • QH301 Biology
  • S Agriculture (General)

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Manchester Environmental Research Institute


Dive into the research topics where Giles Johnson is active. These topic labels come from the works of this person. Together they form a unique fingerprint.
  • 1 Similar Profiles

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or