Mark Tester

  Professor, Bioscience ​

  Office Location: Ibn Al Haytham (Building 2) · Level 3 · Room 3233​
  Faculty lab website:

Research Keywords
Salinity; Salt tolerance; Abiotic stress; Crop improvement; Biofortification; Cereals

Research Interests
One approach to improving desert agriculture is to increase the tolerance to salinity of existing crops, such as wheat, barley and tomatoes. The aim of research in The Salt Lab is to make fundamental discoveries into the molecular genetic basis for increased salinity tolerance in some plants, and apply these discoveries to increase the salinity tolerance of crops such as wheat, barley and tomatoes. This builds directly on work over the past decade where mechanisms of tolerance have been discovered and characterized, then delivered to commercial crops using both GM and marker-assisted selection.

The Projects are organised as part of a “discovery and delivery pipeline”:

In the Discovery project, a range of forward genetic and genomic approaches are being used to discover genes that affect traits that are likely to contribute to salinity tolerance. These genes, and others discovered previously by members of the CDA and other researchers, are being characterised to elucidate in detail mechanisms of action and natural variation within the target crops. The Delivery project focuses on the alteration of genes likely to alter salinity tolerance in crop plants, and the testing of the effects of these alterations on yield in the field. Work in all Projects is occurring in parallel, as knowledge of some genes has advanced to the stage of field trials, whereas discovery of  fundamental processes is still required for other genes and traits.

Salinity tolerance is complex and involves many genes. It is therefore necessary to study not the molecular genetic basis of salinity tolerance as a trait in itself, but to study the mechanisms of traits that are hypothesized to contribute to salinity tolerance. The most intensively studied of these traits is exclusion of Na+ from leaf blades, mainly because it is relatively straightforward to phenotype. Focusing on this has led to significant increases in salinity tolerance in both controlled conditions and even as measured by yield in the field. The other main traits which have also been hypothesized to contribute to salinity tolerance are:

- Osmotic tolerance, which is related to minimization of reductions in shoot growth upon addition of salt, independent of the accumulation of salt in the shoot; and
- Tissue tolerance, where high salt concentrations are found in leaves but are compartmentalized at the cellular and intracellular level (especially in the vacuole).

Activity in each of the Projects are being directed to all three major traits: Na+ exclusion, osmotic tolerance, tissue tolerance.​

Members of the Lab

Sónia Negrão: Research Scientist
Research Interest: Plant stress response, plant molecular biology, agronomy, plant breeding, plant genetic engineering

Yung Shwen Ho: Research Scientist
Research Interest: Plant genomics, salinity tolerance, de novo genome assembly, visual analytics and bioinformatics.

David Jarvis: Postdoctoral fellow
Research Interest: Salinity tolerance, adaptation, genomics, biotechnology

Moonsun Hwang: Postdoctoral fellow
Research Interest: Salinity tolerance, protein engineering, biotechnology

Sandra Schmöckel: Postdoctoral fellow
Research Interest: Salinity tolerance, plant membrane proteins

Shawkat Ali: Postdoctoral fellow
Research Interest: Salinity tolerance, signalling, genetic engineering

Mariam Awlia: PhD student
Research Interest: Molecular biology, arabidopsis, plant physiology, association genetics

Mashael D. Alqahtani: PhD student
Research Interest: Tissue culture, genetics, plant physiology

Nouf Alshareef: PhD student
Research Interest: Plant genomics, plant transformation, salinity stress genomics

Stephanie Saade: PhD student
Research Interest: Salinity tolerance, association genetics, barley

Yveline Pailles: PhD student
Research Interest: Plant genetics, plant physiology, molecular biology, crop improvement, salinity tolerance in tomato plants, wild relatives of tomato, galapagos tomatoes

Mitchell Morton: MS student
Research Interest: Salinity tolerance, applied molecular and cellular biology, plant molecular biology

Fangfang Wu: Lab Technician

Igor Silva: The Salt Lab coordinator

Khadija Zemmouri: Greenhouse Technichian 

Selected Publications
Schilling R.K., Marschner, P., Shavrukov, Y., Berger, B., Tester, M., Roy, S.J. & Plett, D.C. (2014) Expression of the Arabidopsis vacuolar H+-pyrophosphatase gene (AVP1) improves the shoot biomass of transgenic barley and increases grain yield in a saline field. Plant Biotechnology Journal 12: 378–386. DOI: 10.1111/pbi.12145

Roy, S., Negrao, S. & Tester M. (2014) Salt resistant crop plants. Current Opinion in Biotechnology, 26: 115-124. DOI: 10.1016/j.copbio.2013.12.004

Roy, S.J., Huang, W., Wang, X., Evrard, A., Schmöckel, S., Zafar, Z.U. and Tester, M. (2013) A novel protein kinase involved in Na+ exclusion revealed from positional cloning. Plant Cell & Environment 35: 553-568

Munns, R., James, R.A., Xu B., Athman, A., Jordans, C., Conn, S.J., Byrt, C.S., Hare, R.A., Tyerman, S.D., Tester, M., Plett, D. & Gilliham, M. (2012) Grain yield of modern wheat on saline soils is improved by ancestral HKT gene. Nature Biotechnology 30: 360–364

Tester, M. & Langridge, P. (2010) Breeding technologies to increase crop production in a changing world. Science 327: 818-822 (invited review)

Møller, I.S., Gilliham, M., Jha, D., Mayo, G.M., Roy, S.J., Coates, J.C., Haseloff, J. & Tester, M. (2009) Shoot Na+ exclusion and increased salinity tolerance engineered by cell type-specific manipulation of Na+ transport in Arabidopsis. Plant Cell 21: 2163–2178

Munns, R. & Tester, M. (2008) Salinity tolerance in higher plants. Annual Reviews of Plant Biology 59: 651-681

For a full listing of research publications, refer to Prof. Tester's Google Scholar page​ or Research Gate page​.