Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology Faculty . Dr. J. Derek Bewley


Office: SSC 4447


My botanical career started unintentionally with my tending of the tomato plants in my grandfather's greenhouse. My interest in plants was stimulated by excellent teaching in botany at the University of London where I completed both an undergraduate and a graduate degree. My research interests in the biochemical and molecular aspects of seed biology then led me first to the Fox Chase Cancer Research Institute in Philadelphia, where I was a postdoctoral fellow, and then to the University of Calgary as a faculty member in the Department of Biology. In 1985 I moved to the University of Guelph where I have been Chair of the Botany Department and Director of the Plant Biology Program. I retired from the university in 2006, as a University Professor Emeritus, but still retain office space.

During my career I have received a number of awards including the Gold Medal, C.D. Nelson and Gleb Krotkov Awards of the Canadian Society of Plant Physiologists, Distinguished Scientist Award of the Canadian Council of University Biology Chairs, an E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship, and Honorary Life Membership of the International Society of Seed Science.  The American Society of Plant Biologists has awarded me Lifetime Memberships, including the Charles Reid Barnes Award.  I have also been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and am an ISI Highly Cited author.

As part of my contribution to the research community, I served on the editorial boards of a number of journals, including Planta, Journal of Experimental Botany, and as Associate Editor of Seed Science Research. I have also served in various capacities in the Canadian Society of Plant Physiologists and on provincial, national and international committees, including the Plant Biology Grant Selection Committee of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and as President of the International Society for Seed Science.


University of London (Queen Elizabeth College): BSc Botany and Biochemistry, PhD Plant Physiology, DSc.

Fox Chase Cancer Research Institute (Philadelphia), Post-doctoral Fellow


Although no longer actively involved in research, over the years my laboratory has focused mainly on the involvement of cell wall degrading enzymes, hemicellulases, in germination, seedling establishment, fruit development and ripening. For example, for the successful germination of some seeds (e.g. tomato, lettuce, coffee), the embryo needs to break out through the surrounding endosperm. How is this achieved? Is it necessary for the hemicellulose-rich cell walls of the endosperm to be degraded first to weaken it sufficiently to allow the embryonic root to elongate? What enzymes are involved, and how is their synthesis and activity temporally and spatially regulated? Fruit ripening also requires the softening of cell walls. In tomato fruits the enzyme endo-b-mannanase is synthesized exclusively in the outermost regions of the fruit, but early on in ripening is produced in an inactive form? Why? How does it become activated? What determines the enzyme is produced exclusively in the outer regions of the fruit? The breaking of seed dormancy in seeds like tomato and Arabidopsis requires the expression of certain genes, and the down-regulation of others. Recently, using confocal microscopy, we have discovered that for germination of Arabidopsis to be completed, emergence of the radicle is the result of elongation of cells of a region behind it, and not due its own expansion.

More than 40 students at the MSc and PhD levels have graduated from my lab, and we have hosted many visitors and project students. Our research, for which several awards have been received, has resulted in over 270 research papers and reviews, which are in the Highly Cited category of ISI. I have also coauthored four books with Professor Michael Black (my PhD advisor) on Seed Biology, have edited two books, am co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Seeds, Science, Technology and Uses, and of the most recent version (3rd edition) of the graduate/researcher text on Seeds, Physiology of Development, Germination and Dormancy, published by Springer in 2012.

Selected Publications

Sliwinska, E., Mathur, J. and Bewley, J.D. (2012) Synchronously developing collet hairs in Arabidopsis thaliana provide an easily accessible system for studying nuclear movement and endoreduplication.  J. Exp. Bot.  63, 4165-4178.

Nonogaki, H., Bassel, G.W. and Bewley, J.D. (2010) Germination – Still a mystery.  Plant    Science, special issue on Translational Seed Biology, 179, 574-581. 

Sliwinska, E., Bassel, G.W. and Bewley, J.D. (2009)  Germination of Arabidopsis .thaliana seeds is not completed as a result of elongation of the radicle, but of the adjacent transition zone and lower hypocotyl.  J. Exp. Bot.  60, 3587-3594.

Wang, A., Li, J.,Zhang, B., Xu, X. and Bewley, J.D.  (2009)  Expression and location of endo-b-mannanase during ripening of tomato fruit, and the relationship between its activity and softening.  J. Plant Physiol. 166, 1672-1684.

Schenkel, M., Sinclair, A.M., Johnstone, D., Bewley, J.D. and Mathur, J. (2008) Visualizing the actin skeleton in living plant cells using photo-reversible mEOS::FABD-mTn fluorescent fusion protein.  Plant Methods 4:21.

Li, J., Bewley, J.D., Hua, Z, Zheng, W. and Wang, A. (2008) Model and molecular dynamic simulations of active and inactive endo-b-1,4-mannanase in tomato fruit.  Protein J.  27, 363-370.

Gong, X. and Bewley, J.D. (2008) A GAMYB-like gene in tomato and its expression during seed germination.  Planta 228, 563-572.

Ren, Y., Bewley, J.D. and Wang, X.  (2008) Protein and gene expression of endo-b-mannanase following germination of rice.  Seed Sci. Res. 18, 139-149.

Bassel, G.W., Mullen, R.T. and Bewley, J.D. (2008) procera is a putative DELLA mutant in tomato (Solanum lycopersicon): effects on the seed and vegetative plant.  J. Exp. Bot. 59, 585-593.


Bewley, J.D., Bradford, K.J., Hilhorst, H.W.M. and Nonogaki, H.  (2012)  Seeds:  Physiology of Development, Germination and Dormancy.  3rd edition. Springer-Verlag, New York.
-- “This book is used extensively by students and researchers, and provides an overview of the dynamic aspects of seed development, germination, dormancy and seedling establishment."

Black, M., Bewley, J.D. and Halmer, P. (Editors) (2006) The Encyclopedia of Seeds. Science, Technology and Uses. CAB International, Wallingford, UK.
-- “A comprehensive multiauthor work covering all major aspects of seed biology.”

Black, M. and Bewley, J. D. (Editors) 2000. Seed Technology and its Biological Basis. Sheffield Academic Press, UK and CRC Press, Florida
-- "A collection of reviews by experts in seed production, technology and biotechnology on the value of seeds as a food source, and the technology involved in their improvement and conservation."

Teaching and Consulting

As a retired Professor I teach and participate in courses on seed and plant biology at other universities, most recently at Shenzhen University, PR China, and Univ. California at Davis, and previously in other universities including those in PR China, Brazil, South Africa and Sweden, and in industry.  I also perform consulting work on curriculum development, teaching quality and other academically-related matters, as well as on specialized aspects of research on seeds.

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