Rothamsted Research

where knowledge grows


Belinda Townsend

Research Scientist
Plant Sciences

Plants have an amazing ability to adapt to their environment and respond to challenges in the form of climatic variability, pests, diseases, or resource stress. Over thousands of years of crop domestication, we have learned to exploit variation in a plants ability to adapt to its environment to maximise crop performance through selective breeding. My research interests span the field of specialised plant metabolism and how it applies to plant growth, development, and defence. Furthermore, I am interested in how the biochemistry of plants influences the value and applications of a crop. 

At Rothamsted Research, my main crop of interest is sugar beet (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris), which is grown in the arable East of England for the extraction of sucrose stored within a large tap root. My research challenges are structured around the needs of the UK sugar industry and the mission of the BBRSC. By using integrated genetics and genomics approaches, I intend to discover tools that will enable sugar beet breeders to deliver improvements for the benefit of UK agriculture.

The main objectives of my research are:

To characterise the genetic basis of sugar beet root development for increased sucrose yield, efficient bioenergy applications, and high value by-products.

Current research projects:

‘Sugar beet genetic resources to support research into yield improvement’

‘Genetic influences on sugar beet cell wall composition for biorefining’        


  • To design and carry out experiments to address biological questions.
  • To conceive projects, prepare and submit grant applications.
  • Supervise and mentor undergraduate students and support staff, and transfer an appreciation of science to work experience students.
  • Communicate the science and outcomes to the scientific and wider community.
  • Foster productive collaborations within Rothamsted Research and other scientific Institutions and funding agencies within the UK and world-wide.

With thanks to recent funding sources:

BBSRC Training Grant  BB/K011456/1 ‘Genetic influences on sugar beet cell wall composition for biorefining’ Industrial CASE PhD Studentship with British Sugar plc. and BBRO (Oct 2013 – Sep 2017)

British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) 12/11 ‘Developing methods to assess sugar beet pulp composition’ Undergraduate placement studentship (Aug 2011 – Aug 2012)

The Felix Thornley Cobbold Agricultural Trust 5cxiv/4ev ‘Developing methods to assess sugar beet pulp composition’ Undergraduate placement studentship (Aug 2011 – Aug 2012)

The Genome Analysis Centre CCC-41 ‘SUGA: Sugar beet genome analysis for novel traits in arable crops’ (2011) Capacity and Capability Challenge Programme

The Chadacre Agricultural Trust GRA 3/41 'Genes that influence the cell wall structure of sugar beet roots' (Aug 2010 - Jul 2011)

The Felix Thornley Cobbold Agricultural Trust 4eii/5cxii 'Genes that influence the cell wall structure of sugar beet roots' (Aug 2010 - Jul 2011)

The Chadacre Agricultural Trust GRA 3/32 'Identifying properties of sugar beet to target for improved biofuel production' (Feb 2008 - Jan 2009)

+44 (0) 1582 763 133 ext: +44 1582 938426
Rothamsted Research, West Common, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, AL5 2JQ

Owatworakit, A.,  Townsend, B., Louveau, T., Jenner, H., Rejzek, M., Hughes, R.K., Qi, X., Bakht, S., Deb Roy, A., Goss, R.J.M., Field, R.A. & Osbourn, A. (2013) Glycosyltransferases from oat (Avena) implicated in small molecule glycosylation and plant defense. Journal of Biological Chemistry 288: 3696-3704

K. W. Jaggard & B. Townsend (2013) Sugar beet in Europe In: Biofuel cropping systems around the world. Land use, crop management and their impacts on economic, environmental and social implications of biofuel production.  JWA Langeveld, H van Keulen and J Dixon (editors). In press.

McGrann, Graham R. D., Townsend, Belinda J., Antoniw, John F., Asher, Michael J. C., & Mutasa-Gottgens, Effie S. (2009) Barley elicits a similar early basal defence response during host and non-host interactions with Polymyxa root parasites. European Journal of Plant Pathology 123: 5-15

Townsend, B.  & Llewellyn, D. J. (2007) Reduced terpene levels in cottonseed add food to fibre. Trends in Biotechnology 25: 239-241

Townsend, B. , Jenner, H., & Osbourn, A. (2006) Saponin glycosylation in cereals. Phytochemistry Reviews 5: 109-114

Townsend, B. J. , Poole , A., Blake, C. J., & Llewellyn, D. J. (2005) Antisense suppression of a (+)- d -cadinene synthase gene in cotton prevents the induction of this defense response gene during bacterial blight infection but not its constitutive expression. Plant Physiology 138: 516-528

Jenner, H., Townsend, B., & Osbourn, A. (2005) Unravelling triterpenoid glycoside synthesis in plants: phytochemistry and functional genomics join forces. Planta 220: 503-506

Osbourn, A. E., Qi, X., Townsend, B., & Qin, B. (2003) Dissecting plant secondary metabolism - constitutive chemical defences in cereals. New Phytologist 159: 101-108

Townsend, B. J. & Llewellyn, D. J. (2002) Spatial and temporal regulation of a soybean (Glycine max) lectin promoter in transgenic cotton (Gossypium hirsutum). Functional Plant Biology (Formerly Australian Journal of Plant Physiology) 29: 835-843

Townsend, B. & Llewellyn, D. (2002) Designer plants: Manipulating cotton defence chemicals. The Australian Cottongrower 23: 66-70

Townsend, B. J. (2000) Molecular biology of gossypol biosynthesis in cotton. PhD thesis, Faculty of Science and Engineering, The Australian National University, Canberra , Australia . 237 p.

Townsend, B. (1998) Investing in the industry's future - Molecular biology of gossypol biosynthesis in cotton. In: Spotlight on cotton research - CRDC activities 1998, Cotton Research & Development Corporation, p. 48


Townsend, B. J., Warman , T., Ober, E., Qi, A., Stevens, M., & Mutasa-Göttgens, E. (2011) Application of biotechnology tools for improved agronomy and processing of sugar beet. Plant and Animal Genome conference, San Diego, California, USA, 15-19 January 2011. (Invited presentation)

Townsend, B., Mutasa-Göttgens, E., Mitchell, R., & Shewry, P. (2009) Optimising cell wall composition for second generation biorefining of sugar beet pulp. Porter Alliance Research Day: Sustainability workshop, Rothamsted Research, UK, 1 May.

Townsend, B. (2009) Total Food: Sustainability of the agri-food chain. Norwich, UK, 22-24 April.

Townsend, B. (2009) Novel uses for sugar beet. IIRB SAC meeting. Broom’s Barn Research Centre, UK, 25 March. (Presentation to ~30 participants)

Townsend, B. (2008) Gordon Conference in Plant Molecular Biology. Holderness, NH, USA, 13-18 July

Townsend, B. (2008) International Institute for Beet Research (IIRB) 71st Congress. Brussels, Belgium, 13-14 February.

McGrann, G.R.D, Townsend, B.J., Antoniw, J.F., Asher, M.J.C., Mutasa-Göttgens, E.S. (2007) Barley non-host and host interactions with Polymyxa elicit a similar basal resistance response. In Conference Proceedings: Attack and defence in plant disease, BSPP Presidential Meeting, Bath, UK, 12-14 September, p. 67

Bakht S., Field B., Inagaki Y., Jenner H., Melton R., Mylona P., Qi X., Qin B., Townsend B., Wegel E., Osbourn A. ( 2006) Metabolic diversity in plants. In Conference Proceedings: Biology of Plant-Microbe Interactions: Proceedings of the 12th International Congress on Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions, Merida , Mexico , December 14th-19th, 2005 50, 107-112

Townsend, B. , Jenner, H., Qi, X., Bakht, S., Qin, B., Mylona, J., Melton, R., & Osbourn, A. (2005) Glycosyltransferases in Cereals. In Conference Proceedings: Terpnet 2005. Wageningen, The Netherlands , 20-23 April, p. 25 (30 minute invited presentation to ~190 participants)

Townsend, B. , Qi, X., Bakht, S., Jenner, H., Qin, B., Mylona, J., Melton, R., & Osbourn, A. (2004) Integrated approaches for the dissection of plant secondary metabolism. In Conference Proceedings: International Conference on Saponins, Phytochemistry & Application of Plant Saponins. Pulawy , Poland , 8-10 September, p. 21 (40 minute Plenary lecture presentation to ~70 participants)

Townsend, B. , Jenner, H., & Osbourn, A. (2004) Triterpenoid saponin glycosyltransferases in oats. In Conference Proceedings: Third International Congress on Plant Metabolomics, A Plant Sciences Institute symposium. Ames , Iowa , USA , 3-6 June, p. 29

Townsend, B. , Jenner, H., & Osbourn, A. (2003) Dissecting the avenacin biosynthetic pathway in oat roots. In Conference Proceedings: Second International Conference on Plant Metabolomics. Potsdam , Germany , 25-28 April, p. 40

Jenner, H., Townsend, B., & Osbourn, A. (2003) Dissecting the avenacin biosynthetic pathway in oat roots. In Conference Proceedings: Potential of Metabolic Profiling in Plant Science - Workshop. Torino , Italy , 13-14 November, pp. 83-84

Townsend, B. & Llewellyn, D. (2001) Potential for the genetic manipulation of gossypol in cotton � a defence chemical with negative impacts on cottonseed products. In Conference Proceedings: Plant foods for human health � Manipulating plant metabolism to enhance nutritional quality. Breckenridge , Colorado , USA , p. 56

Townsend, B. & Llewellyn, D. (1999) (+)- d -Cadinene synthase expression patterns in bacterial blight infected cotton cotyledons. In Conference Proceedings: Interactions and intersections in plant signaling pathways � Keystone symposia on molecular and cellular biology. Coeur d�Alene , Idaho , USA , p. 54

Townsend, B & Llewellyn, D (1996) Molecular biology of gossypol biosynthesis in cotton. In Conference Proceedings: Cotton on to the future � Proceeding of the eighth Australian cotton conference. The Australian cotton growers research association Inc. Broadbeach, Queensland , Australia , pp. 607-610



PhD in Plant Sciences (Australian National University, Australia)


BSc in Biological Sciences (University of Sydney, Australia)