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BARIToNE Project 07 - Unravelling plant-microbiota interactions for the decarbonisation of malting barley production

   School of Life Sciences

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  Dr D Bulgarelli, Prof E Paterson, Dr Kelly Houston  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Principal Industrial Supervisor – Richard Allan, Chivas Brothers

Principal Academic Supervisors – Dr. Davide Bulgarelli, University of Dundee

Additional Supervisors – Dr. Eric Paterson & Dr. Kelly Houston James Hutton Institute

This project will be based at the James Hutton Institute, Invergowrie and the appointed student will registered at the University of Dundee as the degree awarding institution.

This project aims at elucidating and capitalising on the genetic basis of plant-microbiota interactions to reduce the carbon footprint of malting barley production. Agricultural soils contribute to ~5% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission globally, with negative implications for entire food chains and sustainable development. For example, 50% of the carbon footprint of a single bottle of whisky is represented by the GHG emission associated to the production of malting barley in the field. Yet, this problem may well represent part of the solution as agricultural soils are an untapped sink for carbon. Key towards this solution is harnessing the interactions between plants and the microbial communities thriving at the root-soil interface, collectively referred to as the plant microbiota. We previously demonstrated that the barley genome controls, at least in part, microbiota composition and carbon fluxes at the root-soil interface. In this project, we will capitalise on these breakthrough discoveries to address three interconnected questions:

  1. How do malting barley varieties differ in carbon footprint?
  2. Can we use ancestral and wild barley material to expand the genetic variability for carbon footprint of cultivated malting varieties? 
  3. Can we develop innovative barley genotypes capable of conjugating a reduced carbon footprint with a premium malting quality?

To address these questions, the student will embark on a multidisciplinary research project encompassing plant genetics and genomics, microbial ecology, carbon cycling measurements from soil as well as computational and statistical analyses. On completion of this project, the student will have gained fundamentally novel insights into molecular plant-microbe interactions at the root-soil interface and pave the way for an initial decarbonisation of malting barley production.

The student will be based at the newly established

International Barley Hub (IBH, where s/he will

profit from interactions with a diverse and multidisciplinary scientific

community, including other BARIToNE PhD students, and will use state-of-the-art


If you would like to discuss this project in more detail, please contact Davide Bulgarelli ([Email Address Removed]) for more information

How to Apply

Please visit the main BARIToNE programme page for more details

Funding Notes

Studentship will cover a full UKRI stipend (currently £15,609/annum) tuition fees, training and travel budget. Part-time study is an option (please indicate on your application) and we offer enhanced support to individuals with primary care responsibilities or disabilities.
Applications are welcome from all nationalities, however the proportion of international students appointed through the BARIToNE CTP is capped at 30% (see the Training Grant T&C's for more information). Applicants are expected to hold (about to achieve) at least a 2:1 Honours degree (or demonstrable equivalent experience) in a relevant subject (e.g. Biology, Genetics, Plant Sciences, Ecology, Soil Science, Computer Sciences etc.).


1. Mwafulirwa M, Baggs E M, Russell J, Hackett C A, Morley N, de la Fuente Cantó C, Paterson E (2021). Identification of barley genetic regions influencing plant–microbe interactions and carbon cycling in soil. Plant Soil (2021) 468:165–182.
2. Alegria Terrazas R, Balbirnie-Cumming K, Morris JA, Hedley PE, Russell J, Paterson E, Baggs EM, Fridman E, Bulgarelli D. (2020). A footprint of plant eco-geographic adaptation on the composition of the barley rhizosphere bacterial microbiota. Scientific Reports. 10(1):Article 12916.
3. Escudero-Martinez C, Bulgarelli D. (2019). Tracing the evolutionary routes of plant-microbiota interactions. Current Opinion in Microbiology. 49:34-40.
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