The pioneering application of in vivo nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to plant tissues early in my career led to discoveries in plant metabolism, and then to my current interest in measuring and predicting multiple fluxes in metabolic networks. My main interest lies in understanding the organisation and regulation of the metabolic fluxes that occur in the plant metabolic network.
Metabolic networks supply the precursors, energy and reducing power required for the synthesis and turnover of cellular components. The associated flows of material – the metabolic fluxes – are crucial in determining the performance and productivity of cells and organisms. For example, in an agricultural context, the production of harvestable end-products of plant metabolism is entirely dependent on the flux phenotype of the plant; while in biotechnology, the exploitation of micro-organisms and plants hinges on an ability to reconfigure the metabolic network to favour a flux distribution that leads to the preferential synthesis of a desired product. The metabolic flux distribution in a network can be measured using stable isotope labelling techniques, while the same fluxes can be predicted using genome-scale models and constraints-based flux balance analysis. Ultimately this combined approach to metabolic flux analysis leads to a deeper understanding of plant metabolic phenotypes, their biosynthetic capacity, and the extent to which networks might be manipulated to increase productivity.
I was Head of the Department of Plant Sciences from 2017-2021, and as an Emeritus Fellow of New College, I am a nominated trustee of the Harpur Trust and a Governor of Bedford Girls’ School. I have co-authored two undergraduate textbooks: N.C. Price, R.A. Dwek, R.G. Ratcliffe and M.R. Wormald (2001) Principles and Problems in Physical Chemistry for Biochemists 3rd edition, OUP; and Peter Atkins, George Ratcliffe, Mark Wormald and Julio de Paula (2023) Physical Chemistry for the Life Sciences 3rd edition, OUP.