Skip to main content

Plant Science

Plant science research at Askham Bryan College incorporates several disciplines including agricultural crop systems, horticulture, sports turf management, micropropagation and plant-animal interactions. Specialist science resources include an established micropropagation facility and plant growth facilities, which complement our extensive farm and horticultural resources at our York campus. There is a strong focus on sustainability, conservation and practical management techniques which are fundamental to future agricultural and horticultural practices. Our  undergraduate students work alongside our specialist staff on projects including: developing new methods for micropropagation of plant material, crop growth trials, sports turf maintenance and plant ecology.

Project Staff:

Dr Deirdre Rooney, Director of Higher Education


Current Staff Research

Micropropagation of Hardy Woody Plants
Sarah Owen-Hughes

The propagation of plants is achieved through a wide variety of means, from seed sowing to vegetative cutting. It is reasonably quick and cost effective. When conserving hardy woody plants, this process is not always as straightforward.

In conserved species where a plant has not reached maturity, seed saving will not be an option, and in cases where the parent plant is infected with a pathogen, this will be spread in standard vegetative propagation practices. Micropropagation enables the rapid bulking up of rare stock, the 'outrunning' of viruses, and the opportunity for students to understand the complex layers of controlled temperature, lighting and nutrient control involved in the intensive production of plants.

In re-establishing a micropropagation facility at the College, this offers an increased facility for students to become involved in research projects, particularly when their discipline involves slow growing plants. We are currently developing protocols for apple (Malus), oak (Quercus) and Rhododendron.

The Development of a Fully Integrated Irrigation System Suitable for Glasshouse Research
Tony Wilson, Sarah Owen – Hughes, Tony Peloe, George Evans
Delta-T Devices Ltd, 130 Low Road, Burwell, Cambridge, CB25 0EJ
Irrigatia, Norwoods, Long Drax, Selby, North Yorkshire, YO8 8NH

There are a range of academic papers on irrigation & lettuce cultivation under glass, linking the effects of irrigation and growth (Hakkwan et al., 2016; Yuan et al., 2001; Treftz and Omaye, 2016). Most current research involves hydroponic growing, which many organisations involved in horticultural and agricultural research are not equipped to do. However, the proposed trial aims to sit alongside existing research in terms of irrigation, but will investigate the reliability of the new Irrigatia solar powered irrigation systems and the data logging potential when used in conjunction with Delta-T Devices Ltd equipment.

The understanding is that a successful randomised trial in a glasshouse could lead to further glasshouse or field trials, where a water source is problematic or the fine control of the watering system is necessary. This trial will determine whether the combined Irrigatia and Delta-T Devices Ltd systems offer an inexpensive and easy to construct means of providing a well-controlled irrigation system for glasshouse research. By using comparable experiment methodology we will be able to describe the effect of a range of irrigation rates on soil water, plant growth, leaf development, root development, green area index and chlorophyll levels.

The plant material to be used is the butterhead, cos variety of lettuce. Three litre rosier pots will be used to grow the plant material and three lettuce maxi plugs will be planted per pot. Multi-purpose compost will be used as a growth medium. Lettuces will be sown in June and will have established by late June ready for the trial to commence. Pots will be placed on a galvanised mesh bench; this will facilitate access of the irrigation equipment and tubes carrying the water to the pots.

Three different flow rates will be used: low (sub-optimal), medium (optimal) and high (post optimal). The exact flow rate will be determined in consultation with colleagues from Delta-T and Irrrigatia. Each flow rate will be replicated four times.  A complete randomised experimental design will be used to cater for any bias in the greenhouse conditions. This design is suitable as glasshouses inherently have very little extraneous variation and therefore, this obviates the need for block factors.

Water levels in the soil will be measured using soil sensing equipment, readings from which will be logged using the Delta-T data logging systems. This will inform as to whether target moisture levels are being reached.


Staff Research


Project Title: Toxicity of a larval host plant to different insect instars Start Date: June 2016
Project Lead Staff: Anna Riach Project Partners:
Other Project Staff: 
Project Aims and Overview:


1. To establish if certain host plant species are toxic to the European subspecies of P. rapae larvae.
2. To determine if toxicity is dependent on the stage of larvae


Some insect host plants have not evolved alongside the European subspecies of P. rapae. It is documented that other lepidoptera larvae do not perform well on some of these plant species and there is evidence that there is a large number of metabolites in one of the plants that transfer from the plant into the larvae without breaking down (Riach et al., unpublished). It is hypothesised that these metabolites are not broken down and therefore build up to become toxic. However, toxic effects of this plant have not been investigated.

Askham Bryan College,
Askham Bryan,
YO23 3FR
01904 772277