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Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology

This department provides authoritative and wide-ranging expertise on the structure, development, evolution, classification and genomics of major plant and fungal groups.

Staff and activities

Head, Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology: Dr William (Bill) Baker

Assistant Head, Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology: Ilia Leitch

Comparative research draws heavily on Kew’s wide-ranging collections of both living and preserved plants and fungi. By studying all levels of organisation, from whole organisms through morphological traits to molecular pathways, we construct fundamental predictive frameworks that explain how plants interact with their environment. 

Research foci of the Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology department include: 

  • Plant and fungal evolution, covering trait evolution, plant rarity, uniqueness, and extinction risk, with an emphasis on the consequences of global environmental change.
  • Comparative seed biology, encompassing biochemical, physiological, molecular and morphological studies focused on identification of the different mechanisms and traits important for longevity, optimal growth and restoration of seeds.
  • Specialist systematics of selected vascular plants, with particular focus on groups of economic, ecological and/or phylogenetic significance, such as legumes and grasses.
  • Specialist systematics of selected groups of fungi, especially those of economic importance, such as rust fungi, mycorrhizas and mushrooms.

This research represents a vital evidence base for numerous external stakeholders, including scientific institutions, governments, agri-tech companies, and food, timber, and pharmaceutical industries.

Department teams

Analytical Methods

Delivering and developing the instrumentation and methodology for the department

Using a microscope to study plant specimens

Character Evolution

Investigating the evolution of plant traits, from adaptation to deserts to genome sizes

Comparative Fungal Biology

Exploring the diversity and evolution of the world’s fungal flora

Fungi and crocuses

Comparative Seed Biology

Examining diversity and adaptations in seeds, from seed bank to germination

Helicopter seeds of paper bark maple

Integrated Monography

Conducting baseline research on the classification of plants

Scientist studying herbarium specimen


Further information

Plant and Fungal Trees of Life - Strategic Output 2020

Learn more about how we are working to better understand how the world’s plants and fungi are related to each other and how they have evolved.

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Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology department projects

Learn more here about the interesting and diverse projects of Kew's Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology department.