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Accessing natural and induced variation to improve the protein quality of faba bean

Project Description

This PhD project is about uncovering the molecular genetic basis for faba bean protein content and protein quality, specifically the proportions of essential amino acids in the seed protein. Faba bean is a nutritious traditional human food and is being increasingly viewed as the most sustainable source of protein for animal feed to replace imported soybean. Compared to soybean, however, faba bean protein is relatively low in protein content and in the sulphur-containing essential amino acids methionine and cysteine, and improvement of these parameters is the ultimate aim of the project. The O’Sullivan lab at the University of Reading is an international leader in faba bean genomics and genetics and has a number of projects underway aiming to remove anti-nutrients and increase protein quantity. This PhD studentship comes about through our involvement in "ProFaba", an exciting new international project involving partners in eight European countries in an effort to underpin sustainable protein production from the faba bean crop with advanced genetic and genomic tools (see For example, powerful GWAS studies will be underpinned by development of a 200-strong panel of inbred lines (the ProFaba200 panel) which will be genotyped using a 50K SNP genotyping array and subjected to multi-year, multi-site international field trials. By accurately determining protein content in field-grown samples of the ProFaba200 panel, the student will be able to use a GWAS approach to discover loci with a consistently positive effect on protein content, which are not associated with any drop in yield. Independently of the protein content, the composition of the protein determines its quality. The most abundant storage proteins of faba bean are vicilin and legumin, together accounting for approx 80% of seed protein. Legumin peptide sequences are more diverse and contains more cysteine, methionine and tryptophan (all essential amino acids considered to be at levels in faba bean sub-optimal for human and animal nutrition) than the equally abundant vicilin. Therefore, an opportunity exists to describe and map natural variation in the relative abundance of legumin:vicilin (L:V ratio). SDS-PAGE will be used to quantify relative abundance of the major storage protein subunits across the ProFaba200 seed samples, which could result in detection of associations with common variants determining L:V ratio or discovery of rare variation deserving of further genetic investigation. Because relative amino acid abundance may be controlled by factors other than L:V ratio, content of nutritionally important amino acids will also be determined, leading to discovery of novel associations which may be complementary to those governing L:V ratio. The same techniques as above will be used to screen an EMS mutant population previously generated at the University of Reading for novel variants impacting protein content or quality. The most promising mutants will be backcrossed, the progeny phenotyped and extreme high and low bulks genotyped to identify molecular markers linked to the novel phenotype. By these means, both natural and induced variants controlling useful additive increases in protein content and/or favourable proportion of sulphur-containing amino acids will be identified. There will be opportunities for travel, training and exchange across the ProFaba network.

Funding Notes

The project is funded by Defra grant CH0218 to the University of Reading. The studentship is for 3 years full-time study starting no later than October 2019 and comes with a stipend of £15,009 p.a.
The applicant must hold or about to hold a BSc(Hons) 2:1 or above or a Masters in a relevant subject
It is open to applicants from the UK and EU only.
To apply, please send a CV and letter of application to by 31st March 2019.


Webb A, Cottage A, Wood T, Khamassi K, Hobbs D, Gostkiewicz K, Duc G, Stoddard F, Maalouf F, Ogbonnaya F, Link W, Thomas J and O'Sullivan DM (2016) A SNP-based consensus genetic map for synteny-based trait targeting in faba bean (Vicia faba L.). Plant Biotechnology Journal 14:177-85; Warsame A, O’Sullivan DM, Tosi P (2018) Seed storage proteins of faba bean (Vicia faba): current status and prospects for genetic improvement. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, in press.

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