Professor Stefan Kepinski
- Position: Professor
- Areas of expertise: Plant development; root and shoot system architecture; gravitropism and growth angle control; auxin transport and signalling; auxin perception and herbicide development; Net zero agriculture
- Email: S.Kepinski@leeds.ac.uk
- Phone: +44(0)113 343 2865
- Location: 9.09 Manton
- Website: CPS page
Gatsby Plant Science Mentor - University of Leeds
Chair of the Plant Section committee of the Society of Experimental Biology
Executive committee member of the UK Plant Science Federation
- Head of School
- Associate Director, Global Food and Environment Institute
Auxin-Regulated Development and Net Zero Agriculture
The Kepinski lab is focused on understanding the regulation of plant development by the hormone auxin with projects ranging from the earliest events of auxin receptor complex formation to root hair development and the control of growth angle of plant organs.
Pathways to regenerative, net zero agriculture
Our work on the control of growth angle in plant architecture, particularly in root systems (see below), has led to patented technologies for improving the sustainability of crop production by reducing reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and by offering the potential to increase carbon sequestration at depth.
From here, our interests have expanded to the decarbonisation of the agriculture more generally and to the concept of net zero and regenerative food production systems. At the University of Leeds, we have developed a Net Zero Agriculture Living Lab at the University’s research farm with the aim of establishing a national demonstrator for systems, practices and technologies that can drive the decarbonization of food production. As well as a advanced capabilities to monitor emissions to the environment of a range of agricultural practices and innovations, the University Farm provides a platform for the evaluation of new technologies. These include a state-of-the-art plasma-based livestock slurry processing unit, which dramatically reduces climate emissions associated with production both by blocking direct emissions the animal waste streams and by supplanting synthetic nitrogen fertilizers required to provide the crop-based feedstocks to feed the livestock. In doing this, we are exploring ways to maximise the circularity of production and the valorization of waste streams leading to inherently more sustainable practices. An integrated part of this approach we are evaluating approaches to on-farm energy production from anaerobic digestion, wind, solar and green hydrogen. By taking this whole systems approach, we aim to define practical pathways to regenerative, net zero agriculture and food production.
Growth angle control in lateral branches and organs
The growth angle of branches and other lateral organs is a fascinating topic in developmental biology and one of tremendous agronomic importance. For the most part root and shoot branches grow at angles that are non-vertical, a crucial adaptation allowing plants to optimise the capture of resources above- and below-ground. Importantly, many lateral branches are maintained at specific angles with respect to gravity rather than to the main or parent axis per se. These growth angles, known as gravitropic setpoint angles or GSAs, are intriguing because their maintenance requires that lateral root and shoot branches are able to effect tropic growth both with and against the gravity vector. We are using using genetics, molecular genetics, cell biology, and computational modelling to understand the mechanisms underlying gravity-dependent and gravity-independent growth angle control.
Context-specificity in auxin signalling
A key question in plant biology is how the hormone auxin controls such a diversity of developmental events. Research in the Kepinski lab is focused on understanding how the specificity which can account for this control arises in the auxin signalling system. Although the current qualitative model of this complex system provides a conceptual framework for understanding how auxin can turn genes on and off, it is unclear how and where specific information is carried in the system and thus how auxin pulses of differing length and amplitude can be translated into quantitatively different genomic outputs both within and between various developmental contexts. To address these questions, we are obtaining quantitative and cell-type-specific genomic and biochemical data to parameterize comparative mathematical models of auxin response in juxtaposed developmental contexts to understand how auxin operates throughout development. Our principal model system is the root epidermis which is made up of hair cells that can produce root hairs and non-hair cells that typically do not. This tissue is of particular interest because these adjacent cell types have dramatically different capacities to transport and respond to auxin. Because of the desire to model, as far as possible, at the level of the single cell and with realistic binding preferences among protein components, we are heavily involved in single-cell-type sampling techniques and in vitro and in vivo quantification of protein interactions and abundance. We work closely with modellers at CPIB in Nottingham and to integrate the experimental and theoretical aspects of the work.
The formation of the TIR1/AFB-auxin-Aux/IAA auxin receptor complex is one of the most pivotal protein/ligand interaction events in plant biology. In promoting the association between TIR1/AFB receptor F-box proteins and Aux/IAA co-repressors, endogenous auxins regulate almost every aspect of plant development from the earliest events of embryogenesis to the formation of flowers and fruits. The function of this complex is to control gene expression by regulating levels of Aux/IAA transcriptional co-repressor proteins in response to auxin; the auxin-enhanced interaction between TIR1/AFB proteins and Aux/IAAs promotes the polyubiquitnation of the Aux/IAAs, marking them for destruction in the 26S proteasome. Given the central importance of auxin for plant growth it is no surprise that the TIR1/AFB-auxin-Aux/IAA receptor complex is the target for auxinic agrochemicals, particularly herbicides, which include 2,4-D and picloram. Our current research on this topic revolves around understanding the very earliest events of auxin perception using structural, biophysical, and thermodynamic analysis.<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://biologicalsciences.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>
- BSc, PhD Liverpool
- Member of Undergraduate School Taught Student Education Committee (Programme Manager: Biology and Joint Honours)
Research groups and institutes
- Plant Science