George Coupland is a Director of the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne, Germany and an Honorary Professor at the University of Cologne. He is a plant molecular-geneticist recognized for his work on defining the mechanisms by which plants flower in response to seasonal changes in their environment. Particularly he is known for deciphering the mechanisms by which plants detect and respond to seasonal changes in day length, and more recently for defining genetic changes that distinguish annual plant species from perennial relatives. Coupland was born in Dumfries, Scotland and graduated from the University of Glasgow with First Class Honours in Microbiology. He received a doctorate from the University of Edinburgh in 1984. As a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Cologne, he studied the behavior of plant transposable elements for 4 years. Subsequently, he led a research group at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK for 12 years before becoming a Director of the Max Planck Society in 2001. He has been elected to several Academies including the Royal Society, London and the German Leopoldina.

Research Interests

Coupland studies the mechanisms by which plants synchronise their life cycles to the changing seasons. Using Arabidopsis thaliana as a model, he identified key genes required to promote flowering in response to long days of summer, and characterized the proteins they encode. He showed that this response depends on two layers of regulation involving circadian-clock control of transcription and protein degradation that is controlled by light. This pathway controls transcription of genes encoding small proteins that he and several others showed are transported through the phloem from the leaves to the apex where they promote flower development. This pathway has proven to be highly conserved in crops such as barley and rice. In parallel, he developed perennial Arabis alpina, which is a close relative of A. thaliana, as an experimental system. This species lives for many years and flowers each year contrasting with the life cycle of annual A. thaliana that dies after flowering. His group showed how a specific transcription factor involved in temperature response is differently transcribed between these closely related annual and perennial species, thereby contributing to their characteristic life cycles. He is now studying more generally the genetics of evolution of annualism from perennial progenitor species.

Membership Type

International Member

Election Year


Primary Section

Section 62: Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences

Secondary Section

Section 25: Plant Biology