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BARIToNE Project 12 - Adapting high-yielding barley germplasm to low-carbon agriculture

   School of Life Sciences

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  Prof Adrian Newton, Dr T Valentine, Dr D Bulgarelli, Prof Katherine Smart  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Principal Industrial Supervisor – Prof. Katherine Smart, Diageo

Principal Academic Supervisors – Prof. Adrian C Newton, James Hutton Institute (JHI)

Additional Supervisors – Dr. Tracy Valentine, James Hutton Institute; Dr. Davide Bulgarelli, University of Dundee

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.

The purpose of the PhD studentship is to investigate the traits that are desirable for growing crops under low carbon systems. High-yielding cereal varieties have been bred for high input, high soil disturbance monoculture agronomy. In comparison, under lower input, conservation tillage and in intercropping or ‘low carbon’ agronomy, different varieties perform best. The traits desirable for optimum performance, maximal positive environmental benefit under such agronomy, and the scope for their optimisation in breeding, is not known. This project will assess the traits that impact performance under low carbon systems and consequential effects on the environment.

The main research questions will be:

  1. What are the main plant traits (e.g. root, development, architecture, root hairs, exudates etc.) associated with adaptation to tillage type (inversion cf. non-inversion) in barley and how are these affected by resources (e.g. nitrogen, soil carbon).
  2. What effects do traits for adaptation to low carbon agronomy have on soil health characteristics in addition to the direct effects of tillage?

By reviewing and carrying out meta-analysis of soil-barley genotype interactions, data from published and other sources, including potential barley germplasm, traits and soil impacts (inc. soil history, environment/climate etc.) will be identified on contrasting tillage responses. These genotypes will be used in developing rapid screens to calibrate traits that respond differentially to key soil health traits (e.g. compaction, sand/loam composition, structure, nutrient levels / composition). Key barley genotypes will then be correlated with full growth analysis in field plots. Transcriptomics profiles of differentially adapted lines already known to demonstrate diverse responses to tillage may also be used to obtain indicators of traits. The rapid screens will be driven by the literature analysis but are likely to include assessment of early seedling responses to compacted vs porous soil, root hairs, root structure with the field validation assessments including both traditional and imaging technologies where appropriate. While, this project will focus on plant traits, soil health characteristics will be investigated through the monitoring of soil structure (via for example the Soil Health card system, water, soil strength, C & N characteristics and/or through image analysis of structure). There may also be opportunities for molecular analysis of soil biodiversity. The outcome will be identification of barley traits associated with soil tillage adaptation and their impact on productivity and soil health under low carbon production agronomy. This knowledge and methodologies developed will be valuable for barley breeding and agronomic advice. This research project will be conducted in partnership with Diageo and will offer the opportunity to undertake an industrially relevant qualification, and to gain valuable industrial experience during a hosted placement within a Technical Division of the company. 

If you would like to discuss this project in more detail, please contact [Email Address Removed] or [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.).


Newton AC, Hawes C, Hackett CA, 2021. Adaptation of winter barley cultivars to inversion and non-inversion tillage for yield and rhynchosporium symptoms. Agronomy 11, 30.
Newton AC, Valentine TA, McKenzie BM, George TS, Guy DC, Hackett CA, 2020. Identifying spring barley cultivars with differential response to tillage. Agronomy 10, 686.
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