Professor Katie J. Field


July 2019 – present: 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, Dept. 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), Dept. Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield

Higher Education

2005 – 2008 (Awarded Jan. 2009): PhD  “The functional significance of genetic diversity in plants: An environmental metabolomics approach” , Dept. Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield.  Supervised by Dr. Janice A. Lake. Collaborations with Prof. Barry Pogson (ANU) and Prof. Steve Smith (UWA)



  • Associate Director for Agriculture and Environment, Global Food and Environment Institute
  • Academic lead for Theme 1 of the N8 Agri-food programme at Leeds
  • Impact Champion for the School of Biology

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 phosphorus pools. Fundamental research on various wild plant species 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 with important applications in sustainable agriculture.

Evolution of plant-fungal symbioses

How did the biotic and abiotic environments interact to drive plant evolution and the development of the terrestrial biosphere?

This key question underpins my research into the interactions between ancient land plant lineages and symbiotic soil fungi.  Plant-fungal symbioses date back to when plants first colonized Earth’s landmasses more than 475 million years ago.

Through the Palaeozoic, CO2 concentrations declined dramatically. This was largely being driven by, and provides the backdrop for, diversification of the terrestrial flora with plants increasing in number, stature, morphological complexity and demand for inorganic carbon. 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 show that the earliest plants may not have associated with mycorrhizal fungi of the Glomeromycota as has been hitherto assumed, instead fungi of the Mucoromycotina may well have been key players in plant terrestrialization.

We are only just starting to understand the diversity, structure and physiological function of the relationships between early branching lineages of land plants and their symbiotic fungi. We aim to shed new light on the role fungal symbionts may have played in the development of Earth’s ecosystems.

Follow @katiefield4 and @field_lab_UoL for updates

Current research

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 CO2BBSRC (2016-2021)

PhD opportunities

Contact for current or upcoming opportunities

MSc. by Research

Masters by Research degree projects in plant-rhizosphere interactions, arbuscular mycorrhizal function and responses to environmental change, use of mycorrhizas in sustainable agriculture and plant evolution are available to start in October 2018. Please contact to discuss your interests.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD, Environmental Plant Physiology, University of Sheffield
  • BSc, Plant Sciences, School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, University of Durham

Professional memberships

  • British Ecological Society
  • Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy
  • Plant Environmental Physiology Group (chair)
  • Society for Experimental Biology

Student education

Undergraduate project areas:

  • Arbuscular mycorrhizas, environmental physiology, climate change, sustainable agriculture, plant evolution

Postgraduate studentship areas:

  • Plant-rhizosphere interactions
  • Arbuscular mycorrhizal functioning and responses to environmental change
  • Mycorrhizas in sustainable agriculture
  • Plant evolution
  • Environmental physiology

See also:

Research groups and institutes

  • Ecology and Evolution
  • Plant Science
<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>