About Professor John Crawford

I’m interested in how hierarchical organisation emerges from complex networks of interactions. My research is focused on understanding how interaction networks in cells and ecosystems sustain primary production and how they can be optimised and supported indefinitely.

I am fascinated by the fact that we do not understand the natural systems that support terrestrial life, yet we take them for granted. Climate change and population growth place increasing demands on food supply but we still do not know how many people the Earth can potentially feed. Now focusing on systems approaches to study of sustainable agriculture I am studying the integrated behaviour of the soil-microbe system and was the first to suggest that the interaction between biological and physical components results in the system behaving like a single self-organising ‘biomaterial’. I am extending these ideas to include the evolutionary ecology of the microbial community to understand how the system may adapt to changing climate and agriculture. I am interested in the link between intra-specific variation in plants and community structure and productivity. I have developed the first individual-based model for plant community dynamics that integrates geneflow and seedbank dynamics with a physiologically-based description of plant growth. I have also applied the approach to study the impact of geneflow on agricultural and natural plant communities, particularly in the context of risks from genetically-modified crops and cross contamination between food and non-food crops. I am now developing this approach to study the interaction between plants, soil and microbes to see if the soil-plant-microbe complex can be understood as a self-organising system. Finally, over the past 12 years I have been developing a systems biology approach to study the dynamics of plant cell networks implicated in metabolism, and the regulatory networks involved in diseases of the cell cycle in humans including cancer. I am interested in extending these approaches to study epigenetic processes in cells i.e. hereditary changes in cells that do not originate from changes in the cells DNA, which can play an important role in promoting desirable behaviour in plants.

John Crawford was awarded the prestigious Judith and David Coffey Chair in Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Sydney in 2008. He holds a BSc in Physics from the University and Glasgow and a PhD in Theoretical Astrophysics from the University of London. He has published more than 100 papers in international peer-reviewed journal articles with over 1700 citations. Some research highlights include the theoretical prediction and first empirical evidence for self-organisation in the soil-microbe system (Science, Nature Reviews), the development of a general theory of biodiversity (Nature), the first demonstration of regional-scale gene flow in relation to GMOs (Nature) and the development of the first theoretical ecology of indeterminate systems (Proc. Roy. Soc.). Earlier highlights include the demonstration that the standard Big Bang theory was inconsistent with observed local scale structure (Nature) and the discovery of clouds on Venus (Nature) that is the subject of the current Venus Express space mission.
In the UK John Chaired the main funding committee responsible for supporting research in sustainable agriculture, diet and health and he has written several policy documents that have changed the way the UK delivers interdisciplinary science. He has also served on the UK research Council strategy panels for both sustainable agriculture, and research at the interface between physical and life sciences. He has been invited to become a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications in recognition for services to mathematics in 2003, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2007 in recognition of his contribution to science.

John is an experienced supervisor and has successfully supervised 11 PhD students in the past 8 years. He has active research collaborations in Australia, Europe, China and the US. Grantsmanship exceeds $Au20M and he currently holds grants exceeding $Au5M from research councils and industry sponsors.

Selected publications

Zhang, X., Crawford, J.W., Young, I.M. 2008 Does pore water velocity affect the reaction rates of adsorptive solute transport in soils? Demonstration with pore-scale modelling. Advances in Water Resources, 31 (3), pp. 425-437.

Bown, J.L., Pachepsky, E., Eberst, A., Bausenwein, U., Millard, P., Squire, G.R., Crawford, J.W. 2007. Consequences of intraspecific variation for the structure and function of ecological communities. Part 1. Model development and predicted patterns of diversity. Ecological Modelling, 207 (2-4), pp. 264-276.

Falconer, R.E., Bown, J.L., White, N.A., Crawford, J.W. 2007. Biomass recycling: A key to efficient foraging by fungal colonies. Oikos, 116 (9), pp. 1558-1568.

O'Donnell, A.G., Young, I.M., Rushton, S.P., Shirley, M.D., Crawford, J.W. 2007. Visualization, modelling and prediction in soil microbiology. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 5 (9), pp. 689-699.

Clyde, R.G., Bown, J.L., Hupp, T.R., Zhelev, N. and Crawford, J.W., 2006. The role of modelling in identifying drug targets for diseases of the cell cycle. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 3(10), pp. 617-627

Liu J, Crawford JW, Konstantinos LL 2005. Collapse of single stable states via a fractal attraction basin: analysis of a representative metabolic network. Proceedings of the Royal Society A, 461: 2327 – 2338

Crawford, J.W., Harris, J.A., Ritz, K. and Young, I.M., 2005. Towards an evolutionary ecology of life in soil. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 20(2), pp. 81-87.

Falconer, R.E., Bown, J.L., White, N.A. and Crawford, J.W., 2005. Biomass recycling and the origin of phenotype in fungal mycelia. Proceedings of the Royal Society - Biological Sciences (Series B), 272 (1573), pp. 1727-1734.

Young IM & Crawford JW 2004. Interactions and self-organisation in the soil-microbe complex. Science, 304, 1634-1637.

  • Pachepsky E, Crawford JW, Bown JL, Squire G., 2001. Towards a general theory of biodiversity. Nature, 410 (6831): 923-926