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BARIToNE Project 14 - Can we develop novel phytonutrients from whisky production to produce barley sustainably in a changing climate?

   School of Life Sciences

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  Dr Kelly Houston, Dr D Bulgarelli, Dr J Russell  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Principal Industrial Supervisor – Tom Mulholland, Chivas Brothers

Principal Academic Supervisor - Dr. Kelly Houston James Hutton Institute (JHI)

Additional Supervisors – Dr. Davide Bulgarelli (University of Dundee), Dr. Joanne Russell ( JHI).

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 Scotch Whisky industry is committed to reaching net zero by 2040 and this year the Scotch Whisky Association launched its new Sustainability Strategy (SWA, 2021). With less than two decades to significantly reduce the environmental impact, ‘end to end’ innovative solutions are required that benefit the whole supply chain. Scotch Whisky requires high yielding and good quality malting barley, of which almost 90% is grown locally in Scotland. To maintain this requires considerable inputs, which are currently costly and unsustainable. In addition, from the production side, distillery-derived by-products require efficient and sustainable disposal. One potential solution is to use these by-products to develop new phytonutrients that can be used in the primary production of the barley crop, providing a circular sustainable growth system, reducing requirements for inputs and at the same time minimising need for disposal of waste products from distilling. Historically, seaweed and other algae have been used as a nutrient supply to grow barley on farms or crofts successfully, but to scale production to generate the quantities and quality of grain required for distilling would be impractical.  

We propose to examine the effects of applying these novel by-product derived nutrients on barley growth, in comparison with standard malting regime inputs, on a range of different barley cultivars which are commonly grown for malt. We will compare yield and grain characteristics, including grain nitrogen and ultimately malting quality traits. Furthermore, we will determine the effects of these nutrients on the microbiome populations of the roots and soil rhizosphere. Combining trait data gathered from initial glasshouse-controlled experiments, with genetic data generated previously, we can begin to understand the genetic control of nutrient uptake. This will allow us to identify barley cultivars that are better suited at utilising novel sources of nutrients and define potential genetic markers that can be used in downstream breeding programmes to integrate these sustainability traits. The PhD candidate will have the opportunity to exploit the long-established genetic and genomic resources available at the James Hutton Institute, gaining experience in these essential areas, along with plant & soil physiology. Importantly, they will develop skills relating to industry, specifically malting and distilling, through the close collaboration with Chivas Brothers. 

If you would like to discuss this project in more detail, please contact Dr Kelly Houston 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. Matros A, Houston K, Tucker MR, Schreiber M, Berger B, et al. 2021. GWAS reveals the genetic complexity of fructan accumulation patterns in barley grain. 2021. J Exp Bot. 72, 7, 2383–2402.
2. Houston K, Qiu J, Wege S, Hrmova M, Oakey H, et al. 2020. Barley sodium content is regulated by natural variants of the Na+ transporter HvHKT1;5. Commun Biol, 3, 258.
3. 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.
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