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BBSCR ICase project: What makes a good female? Trait characterization of female fertility traits for hybrid development in wheat


Project Description

Successful reproduction is critical to seed set and crop yields. Self-fertilisation typically occurs in cereals, however hybrids, the products of cross-fertilisation, tend to more resilient and have up to 20% increased yield potential compared to inbred equivalents. These increases do not require additional inputs and thus have minimal environmental impact. Hybrid cereals therefore offer significant potential and are an important goal for enhancing crop yields and delivering future food security. However, generating hybrids is challenging due to the problem of preferential self-fertilisation in cereals. Mechanisms that control fertility in a reversible manner are needed, alongside requirements to ensure effective pollination. Thus, optimizing and enhancing fertility and outcrossing, alongside controlled fertilization for breeding and hybrid development, is important to achieve high yields in a sustainable manner. Establishing wheat hybrid systems are key targets for plant breeding companies, this requires reversible male fertility, but also effective outcrossing with the female parent critical for fertilisation and seed set.

The focus of this studentship is on cereals, particularly wheat, with the ultimate goal of regulating female fertility for hybrid breeding systems to increase yield and for general crop improvement. This studentship will deliver understanding and germplasm for female fertility traits and thus yield. It will provide training in plant breeding, biotechnology and the molecular mechanisms of plant reproduction. The student will be based in a supportive, research-active group at the Sutton Bonington Campus, who are working on various aspects of plant reproduction in cereals including wheat, barley and rice, and Brassicacea. They will work in a cohort of other PhD and Postdoctoral Researchers researching various aspect of crop fertility. The project aligns closely with wheat breeding targets, and is supported by a key player in the Plant Breeding Industry, KWS UK Ltd. The student will develop specific skills in a range of areas including plant reproduction, crop field screening, GWAS and molecular biology analysis, but also in transferable skills such as presenting, interacting with Industry, data handling and teamwork.

Specific skills will include:-i) Characterisation of the traits underlying “being a good female” i.e. fertilization by outcrossing in cereal breeding systems, via controlled environment and field screening in diverse wheat lines and wild relatives. ii) Expertise in plant reproductive biology by trait analysis (phenotyping), molecular genetic analysis and high-resolution microscopy of identified traits.iii) Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS)/mapping of traits.iv) Bioinformatic analysis of gene targets from GWAS, syntenic analysis and phylogenetic relationships between species, to help target identification and characterisation of conserved genes associated with plant reproduction.v) Molecular Biology training including gene expression (qRT-PCR) analysis and construction of CRISPR/CAS9 constructs to target gene editing of key genes linked to female fertility.

Research training will occur alongside our industry partner KWS who is strongly committed to supporting the project, and offers a highly supportive environment for training and skill development in their labs and field sites in UK and abroad.

Funding Notes

iCASE studentships are 4-year PhD projects, which include full fees and stipend (for UK students - EU students are eligible for fees only. International students are not eligible to apply for iCASE studentships). The standard stipend rate for 2019/20 will be £15,009, but some studentships may be subject to an enhanced stipend (see individual listings for details).

References

BBDTP-ICase-ZW

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FTE Category A staff submitted: 90.86

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