The New Phytologist Tansley medal 2011


The New Phytologist Tansley Medal was established in 2009 for the recognition of outstanding contributions made by scientists early in their independent career (Woodward & Hetherington, 2010, 2011). The 2011 Tansley Medal has been awarded to Neil Dalchau from Microsoft Research, Cambridge (UK; Box 1). Neil has made important discoveries that provide invaluable insights into the regulation of the circadian clock in Arabidopsis thaliana using a combination of mathematical modeling and experimental intervention. Most revealing among these has been the demonstration that components of the circadian clock are sensitive to sucrose and that the GIGANTIA gene is essential for its perception (Dalchau et al., 2011).

Neil was selected from a final short-list of outstanding young scientists. These finalists included Ive De Smet (University of Nottingham, UK) who has made important contributions understanding the role of receptor kinases in plant development; Charles Price (University of Western Australia, Australia) has provided seminal insights to our understanding of the ecology of organism size; Shiv Kale (Virigina Tech, USA) discovered a novel mechanism of signaling in the interaction between oomycete pathogens and their hosts; Simon Conn (EMBO Laboratories, France) is harnessing the strength of natural genetic variation to identify nutrient transport mechanisms in A. thaliana. Each presents their breakthroughs to the general readership of the journal in Minireviews that are published in this issue of New Phytologist:

  • Neil Dalchau, Understanding biological timing using mechanistic and black-box models (pp. 852–858)
  • Simon Conn et al., Exploiting natural variation to uncover candidate genes that control element accumulation in Arabidopsis thaliana (pp. 859–866)
  • Ive De Smet, Lateral root initiation: one step at a time (pp. 867–873)
  • Shiv Kale, Oomycete and fungal effector entry, a microbial Trojan horse (pp. 874–881)
  • Charles Price and J. S. Weitz, Allometric covariation: a hallmark behavior of plants and leaves (pp. 882–889)

One thing that is striking as you read through the list of Tansley Medal finalists is that these young scientists cover a broad spectrum of research areas in plant biology. This diversity is a snapshot of the research areas that are published in New Phytologist and demonstrates the genuinely multidisciplinary nature of the journal – it spans everything from small molecules to global system science.

It is likely that addressing the ecological and food security challenges of the twenty-first century (e.g. Grierson et al., 2011) will require combination of multidisciplinary and single disciplinary approaches. The journal is well situated to play an important role. With young scientists like Dalchau et al. there is every reason to be optimistic.

Box 1

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Neil Dalchau awarded Tansley Medal 2011 for excellence in plant science

Neil Dalchau is a scientist at Microsoft Research Cambridge (UK), where he was previously a post-doc, since 2009. His current research is aimed at understanding how biological systems perform computation using biochemistry to ensure their survival in the presence of pathogens and uncertain environmental conditions. This involves applying rigorous computational methods to the understanding of complex biological mechanisms, such as the adaptive immune system in vertebrates.

The work covered in the winning review article (pp. 852–858, this issue) was conducted during his PhD studies in Alex Webb’s laboratory at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, in collaboration with Jorge Gonçalves at the Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge. The project was funded by a BBSRC strategic studentship aimed at bridging the divide between experimental and theoretical biology in plants. The success of the work can be attributed, in part, to the multidisciplinary nature of the Webb laboratory, where modeling and experimentation go hand-in-hand. Computationally-savvy researchers do experiments, and experimentally-savvy researchers engage in model construction and testing. This facilitates rapid cycles of model refinement and prediction, which is critical for uncovering novel insights into biological organization.

Neil receives a £2000 prize in association with the Tansley Medal award ( For more information about Neil visit or contact him at