Nigel Taylor,

PhD

Associate Member and Dorothy J. King Distinguished Investigator

To Say I was Going to Study Science was a Bit Weird

Where Nigel Taylor grew up in suburban Glasgow, Scotland, most kids wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an accountant, but from a young age he had always been interested in plants.

“My earliest memory is talking with my grandma about her houseplants. We have a big begonia of hers that we kept propagating from the mid-1970s.”

For his 16th birthday, he asked for, and received, a greenhouse, where he where he went on to grow cabbages, cauliflower, turnips, peas, and zucchini. When it came time to go to university, there wasn’t really a question about what he would study. Today, Nigel is the Dorothy J. King Distinguished Investigator at the Danforth Center.

A Breakthrough

When he was finishing up his PhD in Plant Biotechnology at the University of Bath, he became aware of a multi-institutional project on cassava. “Cassava is an incredibly important crop for people in the developing world, but like many people in the industrialized North, I wasn’t that familiar with it.”

Cassava was considered recalcitrant—it was difficult to work with and improve. Even though it was a major staple crop, it was only barely domesticated. And because it was so difficult, it was largely ignored, a so-called orphan crop. “Only a handful of labs were working on it, and then I made a breakthrough with cassava tissue culture transformation. Suddenly, we could work on it more easily, and I received a Rockefeller grant to go to Scripps [Research Institute] where I met Roger Beachy.”

When Beachy came to St. Louis to be the first president of the Danforth Center, Nigel came with him.

More Breakthroughs

Nigel credits gene editing, using tools such as CRISPR-Cas9, as the biggest technological break-through of his career. “Gene editing is fundamentally changing how plant scientists do things. We can take these cutting-edge technologies and apply them to the staple foods that smallholder farmers depend on. Orphan crops are now seeing much less of a lag in technology than ever before.”

Why It Matters

The Taylor lab leads the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa (VIRCA) project and is focused on developing virus-resistant cassava in collaboration with researchers in Uganda and Kenya. They are developing more resilient and nutritious crops for resource-poor farmers, empowering them to have more choice in their lives. “Soon, close to 90% of the world’s population will live in developing or recently developing countries. It’s really important that everybody gets to benefit from the power of modern biotechnology. It’s the only way we’re going to be able to feed the world sustainably.”

On gardening

“I’m still learning how to garden in the Midwest. There aren’t so many pests in Scotland.”

Fun Fact

Nigel is an avid cyclist. He has cycled the “End to End” in Britain, from Cornwall to John O’Groats, and has cycled across the Pyrenees mountains, earning a badge from the French government.

On gardening

“I’m still learning how to garden in the Midwest. There aren’t so many pests in Scotland.”

Fun Fact

Nigel is an avid cyclist. He has cycled the “End to End” in Britain, from Cornwall to John O’Groats, and has cycled across the Pyrenees mountains, earning a badge from the French government.
Research Team
Research Summary

The Taylor laboratory has advanced virus-resistant cassava into regulatory field trials in East Africa as a critical step toward delivering enhanced planting materials to farmers.

Nigel Taylor

Principal Investigator, Associate Member

Claire Albin

Senior Laboratory Technician

Clement Bagaza

Laboratory Assistant

Jackson Gehan

Research Associate I

Nadica (Nada) Husic

Senior Laboratory Technician

Tira Jones

Senior Laboratory Technician

Andrew Kiggundu

VIRCA+ Project Manager

Ann Kruse

Grant Manager

Lipsa Mishra

Laboratory Technician

Narayanan Narayanan

Research Manager

Holly Oberlechner

Grants Specialist

Robert Polzin

Senior Laboratory Technician

Rosana Segatto

Laboratory Technician

Jacob Shoemake

Laboratory Technician

Danielle Stretch

Senior Laboratory Technician

Bala Krishna Venkata

Research Scientist

Justin Villmer

Laboratory Technician

Jennifer Winch

Laboratory Technician

May Wu

Senior Laboratory Technician

Nigel Taylor

Principal Investigator, Associate Member

Claire Albin

Senior Laboratory Technician

Clement Bagaza

Laboratory Assistant

Jackson Gehan

Research Associate I

Nadica (Nada) Husic

Senior Laboratory Technician

Tira Jones

Senior Laboratory Technician

Andrew Kiggundu

VIRCA+ Project Manager

Ann Kruse

Grant Manager

Lipsa Mishra

Laboratory Technician

Narayanan Narayanan

Research Manager

Holly Oberlechner

Grants Specialist

Robert Polzin

Senior Laboratory Technician

Rosana Segatto

Laboratory Technician

Jacob Shoemake

Laboratory Technician

Danielle Stretch

Senior Laboratory Technician

Bala Krishna Venkata

Research Scientist

Justin Villmer

Laboratory Technician

Jennifer Winch

Laboratory Technician

May Wu

Senior Laboratory Technician

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Nigel’s research focuses on plant tissue culture and the genetic transformation technologies required to deliver genetically improved cassava to farmers in East and West Africa.

The Taylor lab leads the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa (VIRCA) project and is focused on developing virus resistant cassava in collaboration with researchers in Uganda and Kenya.

Learn more about the Virca Project.