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Advancing Genomic Selection for key processing traits in potato.


Project Description

Staff in Cell and Molecular Sciences at The James Hutton Institute have a distinguished track record of research in plant and crop science, including genetic and genomic analysis. They have contributed to international consortia conducting whole genome sequencing of important crop plants. This knowledge has enabled the identification of genes underlying key traits and provided the underpinning background knowledge to develop populations and molecular markers that have been deployed in commercial breeding programmes through James Hutton Limited (JHL).
New predictive genomic technologies such as genomic selection (GS) and genome wide association studies (GWAS) are now state-of-the-art in plant breeding. Plant genome sequences has allowed populations of plants densely covered with molecular markers to be analysed using computational methods with traits assigned breeding values so that lines can be selected at a very early stage. This allows fast tracking of fewer numbers of candidate lines for field phenotyping and typically decreases the number of field generations by half. Together with new ‘speed breeding’ techniques that accelerate the growth cycle from seed to seed, has led to a major step change in plant breeding.
The Mylnefield Trust recognise the needed to foster skills in contemporary plant breeding and enable a career path for future leaders in genetics and breeding. They will fund three trainee plant breeders to study for a PhD at The James Hutton Institute starting one per year over the next 3 years.
Potato breeding is at the cusp of major transformations largely driven by the application of modern genomics and genetics approaches to potato improvement, as well as the adoption of diploid breeding by many breeders. Genomic selection (GS) and genome-wide association studies (GWAS) offer a tangible route for mobilising and fixing desirable alleles in the breeding of new potato varieties. GS models incorporate trait-effects contributed from markers distributed across the genome into appropriate statistical models that can be used to predict trait values of genotyped individuals without the need to perform phenotyping. Development of a GS-based approach would radically enhance potato breeding by enabling early stage selection for complex traits, thereby facilitating faster identification of elite breeding parents with desirable traits. This would lead to rapid improvement in commercial varieties and reduced time in getting these to market enabling the UK Potato breeding industry to remain competitive and grow its market share.
This project will focus mainly on the processing traits, potato starch and dry matter content. These important but genetically complex traits are also a major determinant of tuber yield. The fundamental processes underlying starch assimilation, interconversion and mobilisation have been extensively studied at the genetic, biochemical, physiological and molecular levels. The project will entail use of existing GWAS data to develop GS models for use in potato breeding for processing and other traits, as well as performing further phenotyping on potato training panels and breeding populations. The planned work may entail methodological development of improved models and will require a high degree of numeracy and analytical capability.
Successful students will gain experience in modern molecular breeding and field phenotyping methods. They will also gain experience of the commercial world and network with stakeholders in industry to ensure they had the necessary attributes including KE skills for a successful career in genetics and breeding.

Funding Notes

The studentship is funded by the Mylnefield Trust for a maximum 4 year study.
Applicants should have a first-class honours degree or equivalent in a related subject or a 2:1 honours degree plus masters or equivalent. Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed in October 2019. A more detailed plan of the studentship is available to candidates upon application. The funding is available to UK/European student applications, but Worldwide applicants who possess suitable self-funding are also invited to apply.

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