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Dr Luke Bell

  • Member of the Committee for Research Infrastructure

Areas of interest

My research interests encompass several diverse disciplines within the Agri-food sector. I am interested in genetic, climatic, and quality aspects of horticultural produce, and how this interacts with human nutrition and consumer preferences.

Research centres and groups

Department of Crop Science

Research projects

My research centres predominantly on crops of the Brassicales family of plants, such as rocket, cabbage, kale, mustard, and radish. These species contain compounds called glucosinolates, which are broken down by an enzyme called myrosinase when we eat them. This releases molecules called isothiocyanates, which often have a pungent, spicy, or sulfurous aroma and flavour. This gives these crops their distinctive sensory attributes, and is a reason why many people do not like to eat them. But isothiocyanates have also been shown to have anti-cancer and anti-neurodegenerative properties, and so I'm interested in improving not only the taste and flavour of Brassicales, but also their health-related benefits for humans. Incidents of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease are increasing, and nutritional improvement of crops is one way of improving people's diets to help alleviate the strain put on health services.

The production of glucosinolates and other metabolites by plants is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Another aspect to my research is understanding how gene expression differs in plants grown in different climates. Climate change will likely impact horticultural crop production significantly in the coming decades, and so I conduct experiments relating to carbon dioxide levels, temperature stress, waterlogging, and drought, to see how plants react and cope on a genetic and nutritional level. It is important to understand how these weather events will affect not only yields, but also the nutritional quality of our fruits and vegetables. This will allow for the development of new varieties of crops that can better withstand environmental extremes


 I spent several years in industry as a plant breeder, and this is a challenging profession that attempts to synthesise all genetic, climatic, and quality aspects for the purposes of crop improvement.


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