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About the Project

Background; For most plants, sodium (Na+) is a non-essential, but functional, nutrient for growth and development. For glycophytes, that include the major cereals, Na+ is toxic when present above certain threshold levels. Intriguingly, several crop species including barley, have been shown to benefit from intermediate (i.e. non-toxic) levels of Na+, a situation that seems particularly evident when levels of K+ in the soil are low. In such cases, Na+ appears to substitute for many of the essential roles that K+ ions play in plant nutrition including enzyme activation and osmoregulation.

Despite its beneficial and well-documented attributes, most studies in the recent literature focus on the negative impacts of Na+ (i.e. salinity) on plant growth. While understanding how to enable crops to grow more efficiently in the expanding saline environments across the globe is highly relevant, it is important to note that most temperate cereal crops are produced on non-saline soils. Surprisingly, little effort has been invested in understanding the interaction between plant genotype and crop Na+ nutrition under these latter conditions.

We recently demonstrated that allelic variation in HvHKT1;5 was responsible for Na+ accumulation in barley (Houston et al., 2020). HvHKT1;5 (P189) containing plants accumulated high concentrations of Na+ under low and moderate saline conditions that had no negative impact on plant yield (biomass). Indeed, our data tend to suggest that HvHKT1;5 (P189) provides a yield advantage under low Na+ conditions.

Here, we propose to explore the role of Na+ as a functional nutrient in barley using impaired variants of HvHKT1;5 that accumulate high levels of Na+ in both leaves and grain.

1. To assess the impact of Na+ on the performance of barley isolines containing alternative alleles of HvHKT1;5 in low K+ environments under optimal and stress conditions.
2. To explore transcriptional responses of HKT1;5 allelic isolines to different Na+ concentrations under low K+.
3. To identify additional genetic factors that modify tissue Na+, K+ or other mineral nutrient contents and assess their interdependencies.

Funding Notes

The studentship is funded under the James Hutton Institute/University Joint PhD programme, in this case with the University of Dundee for a period of 4 years. Applicants should have a first-class honours degree in a relevant subject or a 2.1 honours degree plus Masters (or equivalent).Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed in Jan/Feb 2021. A more detailed plan of the studentship is available to candidates upon application. Funding is available for UK applications only. The James Hutton Institute is an equal opportunity employer. We celebrate diversity and are committed to creating an inclusive environment for all employees and students.

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