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Addressing carbon nanoparticles as delivery vehicles in plants

   School of Life Sciences

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  Dr Miriam Gifford  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Our longer-term vision is to develop and validate carbon-based nanostructures as precision vehicles for delivering natural products for sustainable plant protection.

Context: The Covid pandemic has proved that RNA as a vaccine is a convenient, versatile and realistic preventative therapy in biological systems. The agrochemical industries have also been evaluating the use of various forms of RNA as protection products with Syngenta (for example) advertising (April 2022) for ideas to help them deliver double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) to leaf cells. The O’Reilly group has a tremendous expertise in polymer chemistry and both Napier and Gifford have started evaluating the characteristics of polymer nanoparticles for penetration into plants where they can bring benefits to plant health or productivity.

Plant cells are surrounded by structural cell walls which provide both a barrier and an extracellular matrix which certain polymer nanoparticles can pass through, although this is not a general property. O’Reilly is an expert in the synthesis of defined polymer nanostructures. We propose that carbon nanostructures will offer versatile vehicles for delivering payloads into plants if we learn the design features necessary for permeation and accumulation.

Research idea: We propose to evaluate the performance of defined and designed carbon nanostructures as vehicles for delivering RNA to plant cells and whether certain polymer signatures can be associated with accumulation at specific cell types (‘addressing’). Carbon-based addressable polymers offer a realistic and exciting new frontier for agriculture and we will deliver RNA that can alter signalling pathways involved in plant growth and stress responses.



SJ. Parkinson, S Tungsirisurp, C Joshi, BL Richmond, ML Gifford, A Sikder, I Lynch, RK O’Reilly and RM Napier (2022) Polymer nanoparticles pass the plant interface. Nature Comms.

Sikder A, Pearce AK, Parkinson SJ, Napier R, O'Reilly RK, (2021) Recent trends in advanced polymer materials in agriculture related applicationsACS Applied Polymer Materials, 3: 1203-1217.

Collis DWP, Yilmaz G, Yuan Y, Monaco A, Ohbaum G, Shi Y, O'Malley C, Uzunova V, Napier R, Bittot R, Becer R, Azevedo HS. (2021) Hyaluronan (HA)-inspired glycopolymers as molecular tools for studying HA functionsRSC Chemical Biology, 2: 568-576.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Understanding the rules of life  Plant Science, Sustainable Agriculture and Food - Plant and Crop Science.

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

Synthetic polymer chemistry, dynamic light scattering, confocal microscopy, plant molecular biology, quantitative RT-PCR, RNAseq, surface plasmon resonance etc.

Funding Notes

Studentships provide:
Full Tuition fees
A tax free annual stipend for living expenses (in academic year 2022-23 this was £17,668)
A travel / conference budget
A generous consumables budget
Use of a laptop for the duration of the programme.
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