Dr Mike Wheeler


Senior Lecturer in Biology and School Learning & Teaching Co-ordinator

Biological Sciences

Contact Details

email: m.wheeler@worc.ac.uk
tel: 01905 54 2414

Dr Mike Wheeler joined the University of Worcester in 2010 after researching in the area of plant molecular genetics. Mike developed a strong background in the biology of cell signalling in plants, with specific research into the mechanisms of self-incompatibility in poppy and the control of polarity in pollen tubes of tobacco. He is currently investigating the function of a large family of secreted proteins likely to be involved in cell-cell communication in the model plats, Arabidopsis thaliana and Physcomitrella patens.

In addition to his research into plant molecular genetics Mike is also developing means of using molecular biology to solve problems in conservation biology which is a longstanding passion of his. In this area Mike is currently developing eDNA (environmental DNA) techniques to assess the effect of invasive and non-native species on species of conservation concern.

Mike is a member of both the Plant Molecular Genetics research group and the Ecology and Environment Research Group at the University of Worcester.

Key Projects

  • The function of SPH proteins in pollination in Arabidopsis thaliana
  • The evolution of signalling proteins in the moss, Physcomitrella patens
  • The impact of pheasant releases on native reptile species (with Dr Duncan Westbury)
  • Utilising eDNA to assess populations of native and non-native crayfish
  • Examining the impact of farmland management on corn buntings (with Dr John Dutton)


  • Postgraduate Cert. in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education University of Worcester 2012
  • PhD University of Birmingham 2001
  • BSc Biological Sciences (Genetics) University of Birmingham 1997


  • University Teaching Fellow
  • Member of the Institute of Science and the Environment Research Committee
  • Institute Lead for School Liaison
  • Member of the Institute of Science and the Environment Recruitment Committee
  • Member of the Institute of Science and the Environment Learning and Teaching Committee
  • Co-ordinator of Institute Newsletter for Biological Sciences

Teaching Interests

I teach on a variety of modules in Biological Sciences at the University of Worcester, including the following degree courses BSc Biology, BSc Biochemistry, BSc Animal Biology, BSc Plant Science, BSc Forensic and Applied Biology and BSc Human Biology.

I am the lead for the following undergraduate modules:

  • Level 5 (Year 2)
    BIOS2100 Molecular Genetics
    BIOS2201 Molecular and Cellular Biology
    BIOS2023 Microbiology
  • Level 6 (Year 3)
    BIOS3109 Genomics and Bioinformatics

I also teach on:

  • Level 4 (Year 1)
    BIOS1201 Cell Biology
    BIOS1212 Introduction to Biological Chemistry and Genetics
  • Level 5 (Year 2)
    BIOS2202 Molecular Genetics and Conservation

In addition to my undergraduate teaching interests I have been engaged in several learning and teaching projects. These include:

  • A project with Gill Reynolds (a current Worcester MRes student) on engaging A level students with Bioinformatics where Gill has produced an ebook with guidance on constructing phylogenetic trees using DNA sequence data to enhance teaching of evolution. ยท
  • A Theatre in Education (TiE) project (with Dr Susanne Prankel) aimed at enhancing participation in Science at University level by producing a science-themed play toured to schools and colleges.

I have recently been awarded a University Teaching Fellowship and I am currently pursuing a project aimed at improving performance in lower achieving students.

Conference presentations

Wheeler, MJ, Prankel, S, Swift, E, Fisher, J and Reeves, A (2014). All the Labs a stage: the use of drama to promote engagement in Higher Education Science. (poster and presentation SEB, University of Manchester).

Miller, R, Webb, J and Wheeler M (2014). Frankensteins Creatures; Young adult fiction, genetic Engineering and Issues of Identity. (poster HEA conference, University of Manchester)

Wheeler, MJ (2009).Secreted protein ligands in the Arabidopsis flower. Biochemical Society focused meeting - cell-cell communication in plant reproduction. (supplement to abstract book)

Poulter NS, Wheeler, MJ, de Graaf BHJ, Perry RM, Vatovec S, Franklin FCH and Franklin-Tong VE (2009). Self-incompatibility in Papaver: identification of the pollen S-determinant. Biochemical Society focused meeting - cell-cell communication in plant reproduction. (p. 3 of abstract book)

Wheeler, MJ, de Graaf BHJ, Hadjiosif N, Perry RM, Poulter NS, Osman K, Vatovec S, Franklin FCH and Franklin-Tong VE (2008). The pollen self-incompatibility determinant. Frontiers of Sexual Plant Reproduction III, Marriot University Park, Tuscon, Arizona (p. 60 of abstract book see online)

BJH de Graaf, NE Hadiosif, MJ Wheeler, NS Poulter, RM Perry, K Osman VE Franklin-Tong & FCH Franklin. (2007) Identification and functional analysis of the pollen determinant of self-Incompatibility in Papaver rhoeas. Keystone Meeting, Idaho, USA.(co-author)

Wheeler MJ, Berditchevski F, Hotchin N (2007) Interaction of syntenin-1 with tetraspanins in the plasma membrane. CRUK Midlands Conference, Hilton-Metropole, Birmingham

Wheeler MJ, Ride JP, Holub E, Franklin-Tong VE, Franklin FCH. (2005) The SPH family A family of novel protein ligands implicated in the Arabidopsis pathogen response. Keystone Symposium: Plant Cell Signalling In Vivo and Omics Approaches, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Wheeler, MJ, Davies, EM, Ride, JP and Franklin FCH. (2003). SPH1 a novel class of protein signal molecule from Arabidopsis is implicated in vascular tissue development. Plant GEMs/GARNet 2003 p.138.

Wheeler, MJ and Franklin, FCH. (2002). Dissection of the SI reaction in Papaver rhoeas. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology. 132/A. S130-S131.

Wheeler, MJ, Jordan, ND, Franklin-Tong, VE and Franklin, FCH. (2000). Self-incompatibility in Papaver rhoeas The molecular basis of pollen stigma interactions. 18th International Congress of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. p.198.

Wheeler, MJ and Franklin, FCH. (2000). Pollen-pistil interactions in the self-incompatibility response of Papaver rhoeas. SEB Annual Meeting, University of Exeter. Journal of Experimental Botany. 51: March supplement: p.28.


Poulter NS, Wheeler, MJ, Bosch M and Franklin-Tong VE (2010) Self-incompatibility in Papaver: identification of the pollen S-determinant PrpS. Biochemical Society Transactions. 38 588-592.

Wheeler, MJ, Vatovec, S and Franklin-Tong, VE. (2010) The pollen S-determinant in Papaver: comparisons with known plant receptors and protein ligand partners. Journal of Experimental Botany. 61 2015-2025.

Wheeler, MJ, de Graaf, BHJ, Hadjiosif, N, Perry, RM, Osman K, Poulter NS, Vatovec S, Harper A, Franklin, FCH and Franklin-Tong, VE. (2009) Identification of the pollen self-incompatibility determinant in Papaver rhoeas. Nature. 459 992-995.

Wheeler, MJ & Franklin-Tong, VE. (2007). Specifying self-recognition: peptides lead the way. New Phytologist. 175 597-599

de Graaf BHJ*, Rudd JJ*, Wheeler MJ*, Bell EM, Osman K, Perry, R, Franklin FCH and Franklin-Tong VE. (2006) Self-incompatibility in Papaver targets soluble inorganic pyrophosphatases in pollen. Nature. 444 490-493.
*joint first author.

Thomas S, Osman K, de Graaf BHJ, Shevchenko G, Wheeler MJ, Franklin FCH, Franklin-Tong VE (2003) Investigating mechanisms involved in the self-incompatibility response in Papaver rhoeas. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biological Sciences. 358 1033-1036.

Wheeler MJ, Armstrong SA, Franklin-Tong VE and Franklin FCH. (2003). Genomic organisation of the Papaver rhoeas self incompatibility S1 locus. Journal of Experimental Botany. 54: 131-139.

Wheeler MJ and Franklin FCH. (2002) How plants see themselves - self-incompatibility in flowering plants. The Biologist. 49 (2) 68-72.

Wheeler, MJ, Franklin-Tong, VE and Franklin, FCH. (2001). The molecular and genetic basis of pollen-pistil interactions. New Phytologist. 151: 565-584.

Wheeler, MJ, Allan, AC, Jordan, ND, Rudd, JJ, Franklin-Tong, VE and Franklin, FCH. (1999). The intracellular events triggered by the self-incompatibility response in Papaver rhoeas. Protoplasma. 208: 99-106

Research Interests

1 - Plant Cell Signalling

My interest in this area stems from research that I carried out for my PhD at the University of Birmingham which resulted in the isolation and characterisation of the pollen receptor that controls self-incompatibility (SI) in the field poppy, Papaver rhoeas (Wheeler et al 2009). The SI system in poppy is controlled by polymorphic secreted ligand proteins (PrsS) and a pollen-specific membrane receptor (PrpS). While no homologues of PrpS have been found in other plants there are known to be homologues of PrsS, the secreted ligand protein (Ride et al 1999). These proteins are found as a large family (84 members, figure 1) in Arabidopsis thaliana and also in the model moss, Physcomitrella patens.

A current focus of my research is to elucidate the function of these proteins. We know that these proteins are secreted as they each have an N-terminal signal peptide and immunogold studies suggest they localise outside of the cell (figure 2). The Arabidopsis SPH family members are mostly expressed in floral tissues with some being pollen-specific and many others ovule-specific. However one problem with this family is that they appear to contain many duplicate copies and thus are difficult to analyse using traditional gene knockout strategies. I am currently attempting to elucidate their function by misexpressing and overexpressing pollen-specific and ovule-specific SPH proteins in Arabidopsis.

Because of the difficulties of studying such a large family of genes I am also currently examining the SPH gene family in Physcomitrella patens in association with a colleague at the University of Birmingham, Dr Juliet Coates. The advantage of using Physcomitrella is that there are only 6 SPH genes and the Physcomitrella genome is also known to have less duplication of genes. Additionally this plant is amenable to targeted gene replacement by homologous recombination. I am currently investigating function of these genes via a gene knockout and reporter fusion strategy. In addition I am using a phage display strategy to attempt to find receptors for these proteins.

2 - Molecular Ecology

I currently have two projects in Molecular Ecology. In both of these I am seeking to use molecular methods to enhance the ability of conservation scientists to carry out survey work.

  • signal crayfishUsing eDNA to test streams for native white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes) and non-native signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus).
    I am currently optimising a method for analysing stream water in the Wyre Forest where there are populations of both red-listed white-clawed crayfish and signal crayfish which is an invasive American species. This project is being carried out in conjunction with Dr Graham Hill who has built up excellent knowledge of the ecology of crayfish in the Wyre Forest. Annual surveys are carried out and at present the population in this location appear to be stable. The presence of both species so close to each other also gives us a unique insight into the interaction of an invasive species on endangered native species and it is hoped in the future we can carry out some population genetic work on the two species in the Wyre Forest to examine changes in the population over time.

    I am currently optimising the eDNA detection technique in association with a recent graduate, Niken Pam
  • Using eDNA to test for the impact of released pheasants on native reptile species.
    Little work has been done on the impact that released pheasants may have on native species where they are released (sometimes in large numbers). In a project in conjunction with Dr Duncan Westbury I am currently involved in testing whether it is possible to assess the impact of pheasants by examining scat using an eDNA technique specifically to examine the possibility that pheasants predate young reptiles using material kindly provided to us by Reeseheath College. The current work is being undertaken by a recent graduate, Jemma Roberts and builds on work done previously by Rory Dimond a successful Worcester graduate who now works for the conservation charity Buglife.

    University of Worcester Student to Undertake Malvern Hills Reptile Research
  • In addition to the projects above I have also been involved with a project by an MRes student, Dominique Cragg, examining the effects of farmland management on Corn Buntings. Population Decline of Corn Buntings.

I would be pleased to hear from anyone interested in taking part in these projects at on our Masters degree courses - MRes Biology and MRes Ecology and Environmental Management.

Photograph of Physcomitrella patens growing in petri dishes courtesy of Dr Juliet Coates
Photograph of signal crayfish courtesy of Dr Graham Hill