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Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

Dr Imogen Sparkes

Dr Imogen Sparkes

Honorary Senior Lecturer in Cell Biology



Broad research specialisms:

I am a plant cell biologist with interests in understanding the role and regulation of organelle movement and morphology. Movement of spheroid organelles such as peroxisomes and Golgi can appear almost erratic, whilst the ER network undergoes drastic remodeling from tubular to cisternal form, and continual growth, shrinkage and sliding of tubules. Fundamental questions in understanding the role of such movement, and the factors that regulate these phenomena, are being tackled using a combination of molecular biology and bio-imaging techniques.


1998 - 2002: PhD, Plant biology, Centre for Plant Sciences, University of Leeds
1994 - 1997: BA (Hons) Natural Sciences, Cambridge University


2015 - present : Senior lecturer in cell biology, University of Exeter

2012 - 2015: Cell Biology lecturer, University of Exeter
2009 - 2012: Senior research fellow in Cell and Molecular Biology, Oxford Brookes University
2003 - 2009: Postdoctoral researcher, Oxford Brookes University

Research group links

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Research interests

Plant organelles are extremely dynamic in terms of motility and morphology. For example in leaf epidermal cells, where most of the cytoplasm is confined to a thin peripheral layer due to the presence of a large vacuole, Golgi bodies can reach speeds of up to 8µm/s. Several classes of organelle such as peroxisomes, mitochondria and Golgi bodies undergo different types of movement such as uni and bidirectional, and appear to randomly stop and then go. The cortical ER is composed of a polygonal network of tubules. The tubules can readily grow, shrink and slide to form branch points, and convert into a cisternal 'sheet' form.

The almost chaotic and seemingly indiscriminate motion alters in response to changes in environmental stimuli, begging the question, does movement have a functional role?

My group is interested in characterising the molecular factors that control plant organelle movement and morphology. Organelle movement in higher plants is predominantly controlled by the actin cytoskeleton and myosin, the molecular motors that traverse actin. ER morphology is controlled in part by actin and myosin, and also by structural proteins called reticulons. By understanding these components and more, we can then start to address whether by affecting organelle movement and morphology, we can in turn affect organelle function and ultimately cell growth and maintenance.

Movement of ER (green) and Golgi bodies (red) in Arabidopsis leaf epidermal cells
(Sparkes et al. Biochem. J. 2009).

Research projects

External grants / funding:

2015 Leverhulme Trust grant, Principle Investigator on 'Biophysical and molecular characterisation of ER-organelle interactions in plants'.

2015 STFC programme access grant, Principle investigator on 'Biophysical and molecular characterisation of organelle movement and positioning in plant cells'.

2014 New Phytologist Symposium fund, Co-investigator on 'Developing interdisciplinary omics tools for organelle and cell type-specific analysis of plants’.

2014 Royal Society grant, Principle Investigator on 'Effects of temperature on organelle dynamics and interactions in plants'.

2012 STFC programme access grant, Co-investigator on 'The Plant Cell Initiative'.

2012 BBSRC grant Co-investigator on 'Putting the squeeze on PDs - reticulons, plasmodesmata and viral trafficking in plants'.

2011 BBSRC grant Principle Investigator on 'Characterisation of Arabidopsis myosin recruitment'.

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External Engagement and Impact

Committee/panel activities

Royal Microscopy Society, Life Sciences committee member (elected member)

Editorial responsibilities

Review editor for Frontiers in Plant Cell Biology, and review manuscripts for The Plant Cell, Plant Journal, Plant Physiology, Traffic, Journal of Experimental Botany and New Phytologist.

Co-editor for special edition of Molecular Plant on 'Cellular dynamics' (2011)

Invited lectures

Linnean Society, Irene Manton lecture (2015)

Royal Microscopy Society, Botanical Microscopy conference, Exeter (2015)

Society for Experimental Biology annual meeting, Manchester (2014)

BioDynamics workshop, Exeter (2014)

Warwick University seminar series (2013)

IFR 87, Gif-Sur-Yvette, France (2013) The Plant and its environment

Knoxville University, USA (2011) NIMBIOS workshop ‘Mathematical modeling of intracellular movements’.

Texas A and M University, Texas, USA (2011) seminar series

University of Leeds, UK (2011) seminar series

University of Warwick, UK (2008) MOAC and systems biology centre seminar series

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Information not currently available

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Supervision / Group

Postdoctoral researchers

  • Dr Congping Lin
  • Dr Rhiannon White

Postgraduate researchers

  • Petra Kiviniemi (Co-supervised with Prof. Chris Hawes, Oxford Brookes University)
  • Chiara Perico


  • Dr Hongbo Gao

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