Prof. Mark Fricker

University Lecturer

Research Focus

Imaging signalling and transport in fungi and plants

Scientific Activities

Biological network analysis: We have pioneered network analysis of foraging basidiomycete fungi and shown that these indeterminate, de-centralized systems can yield adaptive networks with both high transport capacity and robustness to damage, but at a relatively low cost, through selective reinforcement of key transport pathways and recycling of redundant routes. This has required novel algorithms to extract the network architecture, predictive mathematical modelling of long-distance nutrient translocation, and model validation through experimental imaging of nutrient movement using novel photon-counting scintillation imaging.

In parallel we have analysed network formation in the taxonomically-distinct acellular slime molds and shown that they can form networks with comparable efficiency, fault tolerance, and cost to those of real-world infrastructure networks such as the Tokyo rail system (this was awarded an IgNobel prize in 2010, and featured in Nature’s weirdest events (BBC) 2015; ARTE documentary ‘Super fungi – can mushrooms help to save the world?’ (2013) (awarded le prix du public and le prix Pierre-Gilles de Gennes at the Paris International Science Film Festival); and BBC films – Afterlife: The Science of Decay (2012). Although these different networked organisms are taxonomically un-related and the mechanisms leading to fluid-flow are radically different, network dynamics and behaviour appear to follow the same macroscopic rules. Thus, our current working hypothesis is that bio-physical hydraulic coupling and the internal flows observed in biological networks serve as the central control mechanism enabling coordinated growth and behaviour across a range of scales.

Imaging signal transduction: The other long running strand in the lab is in the development and application of confocal microscopy and quantitative analysis techniques to map signalling in plant and fungal systems, including measurement of Ca2+, pH, NO, GSH and redox and membrane potential.

Significant Publications

Heaton, L.L.M., Jones, N.S. and Fricker, M.D. (2015) Energetic constraints on saprotrophic fungal growth determine life history strategies. Am. Nat. 187 E27-E40. Doi: 10.1086/684392

Heaton, L.L.M., López, E., Maini, P.K., Fricker, M.D. and Jones, N.S. (2012). Advection, diffusion and delivery over a network. Phys. Rev. E 86, 021905. Doi: 10.1103/PhysRevE.86.021905

Tero, A., Takagi, S., Saigusa, T., Ito, K., Bebber, D.P., Fricker, M.D., Yumiki, K., Kobayashi, R., and Nakagaki, T. (2010) Rules for biologically-inspired adaptive network design. Science 327, 439 – 442. DOI: 10.1126/science.1177894


Contact information

University of Oxford
South Parks Road