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Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

Dr Michael Deeks

Dr Michael Deeks

Senior Lecturer in Plant Biology


 Geoffrey Pope M05


Geoffrey Pope Building, University of Exeter , Stocker Road, Exeter, EX4 4QD, UK


I am a cell biologist with an interest in cell polarity; specifically the way plant cells respond to spatial information to guide their immune responses.

The cells of complex plants have an acute awareness of the events occurring immediately beyond their walls and make spatially precise responses to any perceived threat. Potentially pathogenic microbes cause plant defences to focus within a few square microns of the plant cell surface. This process can be summarised as 'pathogen-oriented cell polarisation'. The response is effective against most microbes but successful pathogens evade these counter-measures to establish infection.

My group aims to understand how multiple cell processes are co-ordinated as a system to achieve this important response that underpins the plant immune system.


1998 - 2001 University of Leeds. PhD Genetics.
1995 - 1998 University of Leeds. B.Sc. Hons. Genetics.


7/98 - 9/98 Research Assistant, John Innes Institute, Norwich.
10/01 - 6/13 Senior Research Associate/Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Durham University.
7/13 - 10/17 Lecturer in Plant Biology, Biosciences, University of Exeter.
107/17 - Present Senior Lecturer, Biosciences, University of Exeter

Research group links

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Research interests

Our research aims to understand the response of plant cells to localised pathogen assault. Changes in cell architecture support the plant immune system and an understanding of this response could potentially be exploited to protect key crops.

We are investigating the mechanisms co-ordinating this spatially focused phenomenon using advanced light microscopy combined with a broad range of molecular, genetic and biochemical techniques. We are particularly interested in how the plant-pathogen interface emerges from the co-ordination of several processes:

  • Microbe perception
  • Cytoskeletal re-arrangement
  • Long-range cargo transport
  • Exocytosis (cargo delivery)
  • Endocytosis (cargo recovery)

We are developing bioimage informatics and modelling approaches to better understand the relationships between these different players in both model plants and key cereals.

Research projects

  • Dynamics of vescile delivery to the plant-pathogen interface.
  • Live cell imaging of plant-pathogen interfaces in wheat using advanced light microscopy and recombinant fluorescent proteins.

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Journal articles

Moger JJ, Littlejohn GL, Deeks MD (In Press). Making microscopy count: quantitative light microscopy of dynamic processes in living plants. Journal of Microscopy Abstract.
Michael D, Deeks M (In Press). Plant formins roll out the welcome wagon for microbes. Current Biology
Arnaud D, Deeks MJ, Smirnoff N (2023). <scp>RBOHF</scp> activates stomatal immunity by modulating both reactive oxygen species and apoplastic <scp>pH</scp> dynamics in Arabidopsis. The Plant Journal, 116(2), 404-415. Abstract.
Hembrow J, Deeks MJ, Richards DM (2023). Automatic extraction of actin networks in plants. PLOS Computational Biology, 19(8), e1011407-e1011407. Abstract.
Child HT, Deeks MJ, Rudd JJ, Bates S (2023). Comparison of the impact of two key fungal signalling pathways on <i>Zymoseptoria tritici</i> infection reveals divergent contribution to invasive growth through distinct regulation of infection‐associated genes. Molecular Plant Pathology, 24(10), 1220-1237. Abstract.
Connerton AJ, Sassmann S, Deeks MJ (2023). Live-Cell Imaging of Cytoskeletal Responses and Trafficking During Fungal Elicitation. , 2604, 271-284. Abstract.
Child HT, Deeks MJ, Haynes K, Rudd JJ, Bates S (2022). Distinct roles for different autophagy-associated genes in the virulence of the fungal wheat pathogen Zymoseptoria tritici. Fungal Genetics and Biology, 163, 103748-103748.
Arnaud D, Deeks MJ, Smirnoff N (2022). Organelle-targeted biosensors reveal distinct oxidative events during pattern-triggered immune responses. Plant Physiology, 191(4), 2551-2569. Abstract.
Arnaud D, Deeks MJ, Smirnoff N (2021). Differences between apoplastic and cytosolic reactive oxygen species production in<i>Arabidopsis</i>during pattern-triggered immunity. Abstract.
Duckney P, Kroon JT, Dixon MR, Hawkins TJ, Deeks MJ, Hussey PJ (2021). NETWORKED2‐subfamily proteins regulate the cortical actin cytoskeleton of growing pollen tubes and polarised pollen tube growth. New Phytologist, 231(1), 152-164. Abstract.
Deeks MJ (2021). Plant biology: Plant formins roll out the welcome wagon for microbes. Current Biology, 31(12), R788-R791. Abstract.
Sassmann S, Rodrigues C, Milne SW, Nenninger A, Allwood E, Littlejohn GR, Talbot NJ, Soeller C, Davies B, Hussey PJ, et al (2018). An Immune-Responsive Cytoskeletal-Plasma Membrane Feedback Loop in Plants. Current Biology, 28(13), 2136-2144.e7. Abstract.
Isner JC, Xu Z, Costa JM, Monnet F, Batstone T, Ou X, Deeks MJ, Genty B, Jiang K, Hetherington AM, et al (2017). Actin filament reorganisation controlled by the SCAR/WAVE complex mediates stomatal response to darkness. New Phytologist, 215(3), 1059-1067. Abstract.
Duckney P, Deeks MJ, Dixon MR, Kroon J, Hawkins TJ, Hussey PJ (2017). Actin–membrane interactions mediated by <scp>NETWORKED</scp>2 in Arabidopsis pollen tubes through associations with Pollen Receptor‐Like Kinase 4 and 5. New Phytologist, 216(4), 1170-1180. Abstract.
Tolmie F, Poulet A, McKenna J, Sassmann S, Graumann K, Deeks M, Runions J (2017). The cell wall of Arabidopsis thaliana influences actin network dynamics. Journal of Experimental Botany, 68(16), 4517-4527.
Deeks M, Sánchez-Rodríguez C (2016). Seeing is believing: cell biology at the plant-microbe interface. New Phytol, 211(1), 16-19.  Author URL.
Martin-Urdiroz M, Deeks MJ, Horton CG, Dawe HR, Jourdain I (2016). The Exocyst Complex in Health and Disease. Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, 4
Nelson CJ, Duckney P, Hawkins TJ, Deeks MJ, Laissue PP, Hussey PJ, Obara B (2014). Blobs and curves: object-based colocalisation for plant cells. Functional Plant Biology Abstract.  Author URL.
Hawkins TJ, Deeks MJ, Wang P, Hussey PJ (2014). The evolution of the actin binding NET superfamily. Front Plant Sci, 5 Abstract.  Author URL.
Wang P, Hawkins TJ, Richardson C, Cummins I, Deeks MJ, Sparkes I, Hawes C, Hussey PJ (2014). The plant cytoskeleton, NET3C, and VAP27 mediate the link between the plasma membrane and endoplasmic reticulum. Curr Biol, 24(12), 1397-1405. Abstract.  Author URL.
Deeks MJ, Calcutt JR, Ingle EKS, Hawkins TJ, Chapman S, Richardson AC, Mentlak DA, Dixon MR, Cartwright F, Smertenko AP, et al (2012). A superfamily of actin-binding proteins at the actin-membrane nexus of higher plants. Current Biology, 22(17), 1595-1600. Abstract.
Tõth R, Gerding-Reimers C, Deeks MJ, Menninger S, Gallegos RM, Tonaco IAN, Hübel K, Hussey PJ, Waldmann H, Coupland G, et al (2012). Prieurianin/endosidin 1 is an actin-stabilizing small molecule identified from a chemical genetic screen for circadian clock effectors in Arabidopsis thaliana. Plant Journal, 71(2), 338-352. Abstract.
Jiang K, Sorefan K, Deeks MJ, Bevan MW, Hussey PJ, Hetherington AM (2012). The ARP2/3 complex mediates guard cell actin reorganization and stomatal movement in Arabidopsis. Plant Cell, 24(5), 2031-2040. Abstract.
Liu J, Piette BMAG, Deeks MJ, Franklin-Tong VE, Hussey PJ (2010). A compartmental model analysis of integrative and self- regulatory ion dynamics in pollen tube growth. PLoS ONE, 5(10). Abstract.
Smertenko AP, Deeks MJ, Hussey PJ (2010). Strategies of actin reorganisation in plant cells. J Cell Sci, 123(Pt 17), 3019-3028. Abstract.  Author URL.
Deeks MJ, Fendrych M, Smertenko A, Bell KS, Oparka K, Cvrcková F, Zársky V, Hussey PJ (2010). The plant formin AtFH4 interacts with both actin and microtubules, and contains a newly identified microtubule-binding domain. J Cell Sci, 123(Pt 8), 1209-1215. Abstract.  Author URL.
Piette BMAG, Liu J, Peeters K, Smertenko A, Hawkins T, Deeks M, Quinlan R, Zakrzewski WJ, Hussey PJ (2009). A thermodynamic model of microtubule assembly and disassembly. PLoS One, 4(8). Abstract.  Author URL.
Deeks M, Hussey P (2008). Regulation of actin polymerisation and morphogenesis. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part a Molecular & Integrative Physiology, 150(3), s139-s140.
Deeks MJ, Rodrigues C, Dimmock S, Ketelaar T, Maciver SK, Malhó R, Hussey PJ (2007). Arabidopsis CAP1 - a key regulator of actin organisation and development. J Cell Sci, 120(Pt 15), 2609-2618. Abstract.  Author URL.
Uhrig JF, Mutondo M, Zimmermann I, Deeks MJ, Machesky LM, Thomas P, Uhrig S, Rambke C, Hussey PJ, Hülskamp M, et al (2007). The role of Arabidopsis SCAR genes in ARP2-ARP3-dependent cell morphogenesis. Development, 134(5), 967-977. Abstract.
Hussey PJ, Ketelaar T, Deeks MJ (2006). Control of the actin cytoskeleton in plant cell growth. Annual Review of Plant Biology, 57, 109-125. Abstract.
Deeks MJ, Cvrcková F, Machesky LM, Mikitová V, Ketelaar T, Zársky V, Davies B, Hussey PJ (2005). Arabidopsis group Ie formins localize to specific cell membrane domains, interact with actin-binding proteins and cause defects in cell expansion upon aberrant expression. New Phytologist, 168(3), 529-540. Abstract.
Deeks MJ, Hussey PJ (2005). Arp2/3 and SCAR: Plants move to the fore. Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology, 6(12), 954-964. Abstract.
Deeks MJ, Kaloriti D, Davies B, Malhó R, Hussey PJ (2004). Arabidopsis NAP1 is essential for Arp2/3-dependent trichome morphogenesis. Current Biology, 14(15), 1410-1414. Abstract.
Deeks MJ, Hussey PJ (2003). Arp2/3 and 'The Shape of things to come'. Current Opinion in Plant Biology, 6(6), 561-567. Abstract.
Deeks MJ, Hussey PJ, Davies B (2002). Formins: Intermediates in signal-transduction cascades that affect cytoskeletal reorganization. Trends in Plant Science, 7(11), 492-498. Abstract.


Hussey PJ, Deeks MJ, Hawkins TJ, Ketelaar T (2018). Polar Cell Growth and the Cytoskeleton Biology. In  (Ed) Annual Plant Reviews online, Wiley, 1-50.
Deeks MJ, Hussey PJ (2016). Plant Actin Biology. In  (Ed) Encyclopedia of Life Sciences, Wiley, 1-9.
Deeks MJ, Hussey PJ (2009). Plant Actin Biology. In  (Ed) Encyclopedia of Life Sciences, Wiley.


Sassmann S, Rodrigues C, Hembrow J, Richards D, Horsell DW, Deeks MJ (2019). Immune-responsive feedback between the cytoskeleton and plasma membrane.  Author URL.
Valente F, Rodrigues C, Wallington E, Romana G, Herring D, Thomas G, Deeks MJ (2019). Investigating the role of the early wheat immune system to Zymoseptoria tritici fungi using bio-imaging approaches.  Author URL.
Baggaley L, Huttly A, Sparks C, Kurup S, Faulkner C, Deeks MJ, Hammond-Kosack K (2019). Tracking a cereal killer: How does Fusarium graminearum utilise the plasmodesmata to further infection?.  Author URL.

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External Engagement and Impact

Committee/panel activities

Chair UK Biochemical Society ‘Cells’ theme panel.

Primary PI for the GW4-wide Imaging Network (funded by the GW4 communities

Invited lectures

Invited guest lecturer, University of Leeds, Level 3 undergraduate plant development, May 2012.

Invited speaker – ‘Untangling Plant Actin’ SEB Annual Meeting, July 2008, Marseille.

Invited seminar speaker, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, ‘Analysing Actin Remodeling Proteins in Plants Using Reverse Genetics’. February 2007.

Invited speaker – ‘Actin Nucleating Proteins in Plants’ Bioscience 2005, September 2005, Glasgow.

Workshops/Conferences organised

Co-organiser for ‘Imaging Pathogenesis’, SEB Annual Meeting (Sweden 2017).

Co-organiser for Royal Microscopical Society Botanical Meeting (Exeter 2015).

Co-organiser 'Imaging to Mathematical Modelling' (Exeter 2013).

Local coordinator (Durham) for EPSO 'Fascination of Plants Day 2012'.

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Level 1:

  • NSC1003 - Foundations in Natural Science (lecturer)

Level 2:

  • BIO2099 - Molecular Plant Science (coordinator)
  • NSC2001 - Frontiers in Science 2 (co-coordinator)

Level 3:

  • BIO3096 - Biosciences Research Project
  • NSC3001 - Natural Sciences BSc Research Project

Level 4:

  • NSC3002 - Natural Sciences MSc Research Project
  • NSCM009 - Bioimaging (coordinator)

I am a tutor for Natural Sciences and Biosciences undergraduate students.



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Supervision / Group

Postdoctoral researchers

  • Dominique Arnaud (PI Prof. Nick Smirnoff)
  • Anja Nenninger
  • Stefan Sassmann (Co-I Christian Soeller, Physics)
  • Graham Thomas (PI Prof. Ken Haynes)

Postgraduate researchers


  • Kathryn Grant
  • Dr. Stephen Milne
  • Dr. Cecilia Rodrigues (visiting researcher)

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