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(BBSRC DTP) How plant cells communicate: localised cell wall deposition during differentiation.

Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

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Prof S Turner , Dr M Kim No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Manchester United Kingdom Biochemistry Cell Biology Genetics Molecular Biology Plant Biology

About the Project

Rapidly increasing CO2 levels and the way in which this is altering our climate has become one of the most pressing problems of our age. One means of reducing CO2 emissions is to use biomass as a renewable source of feedstock to generate biofuels, biomaterial and other chemicals. Plant cell walls are the only source of biomass that are sufficiently abundant to make a meaningful contribution to decreasing CO2 emissions. Most plant cell wall material is found in thick woody cell walls that are rich in the polymer cellulose. Consequently, improving plant material for bioprocessing requires altering plant secondary cell walls. While increased cell wall deposition should generate more feedstock there are times during plant development when it is essential to carefully localise the deposition of the cell wall. We have used the water conduction vessels of the xylem to address the question of localised secondary cell wall deposition. Adjacent xylem vessels connect together to form a continuous network that is responsible for the transport of water and solutes around the plant. These cells must deposit a thick secondary cell wall on the lateral walls that is essential for the structural stability of the cell, while excluding this cell wall from the end walls that will form the connection with the adjacent xylem vessels. To allow unimpeded flow of water these connections between xylem vessels, known as a perforation plates, requires that the perforation plate of one cell must perfectly match the perforation site of the adjacent cell. How adjacent cells are able to communicate the spatial information required to coordinate this process is currently unknown.
The project will exploit the availability of a tomato mutant that is defective in this process and will address the fundamental problem of how plant cells communicate. Identifying the defect in this mutant will allow us to identify how adjacent cells transmit spatial information and how this information is used to direct the deposition of the secondary cell wall. Understanding this process will help us to more effectively engineer plants with increased biomass for bioprocessing while ensuring that plant growth and development is not compromised.
This is a multidisciplinary project involving the use of molecular genetics that will exploit the latest developments in both next generation sequencing and live cell imaging.

Entry Requirements:
Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

UK applicants interested in this project should make direct contact with the Principal Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. International applicants (including EU nationals) must ensure they meet the academic eligibility criteria (including English Language) as outlined before contacting potential supervisors to express an interest in their project. Eligibility can be checked via the University Country Specific information page (
If your country is not listed you must contact the Doctoral Academy Admissions Team providing a detailed CV (to include academic qualifications – stating degree classification(s) and dates awarded) and relevant transcripts.

Following the review of your qualifications and with support from potential supervisor(s), you will be informed whether you can submit a formal online application.

To be considered for this project you MUST submit a formal online application form - full details on how to apply can be found on the BBSRC DTP website

Funding Notes

Funding will cover UK tuition fees/stipend only. The University of Manchester aims to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK. We are able to offer a limited number of scholarships that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website


Campbell, L., Etchells, J.P., Cooper, M., Kumar, M., and Turner, S.R. (2018). An essential role for abscisic acid in the regulation of xylem fibre differentiation. Development 145, dev161992.
Kumar, M., Wightman, R., Atanassov, I., Gupta, A., Hurst, C.H., Hemsley, P.A., and Turner, S. (2016). S-Acylation of the cellulose synthase complex is essential for its plasma membrane localization. Science 353, 166-169.
Kumar, M., Mishra, L., Carr, P., Pilling, M., Gardner, P., Mansfield, S.D., and Turner, S.R. (2018). Exploiting CELLULOSE SYNTHASE (CESA) class-specificity to probe cellulose microfibril biosynthesis. Plant Physiol. 177, 151-167.
Smit, M.E., McGregor, S.R., Sun, H., Gough, C., Bagman, A.M., Soyars, C.L., Kroon, J.T., Gaudinier, A., Williams, C.J., Yang, X.Y., Nimchuk, Z.L., Weijers, D., Turner, S.R., Brady, S.M., and Etchells, J.P. (2020). A PXY-Mediated Transcriptional Network Integrates Signaling Mechanisms to Control Vascular Development in Arabidopsis. Plant Cell 32, 319-335.
Wang, N., Bagdassarian, K.S., Doherty, R.E., Kroon, J.T., Connor, K.A., Wang, X.Y., Wang, W., Jermyn, I.H., Turner, S.R., and Etchells, J.P. (2019). Organ-specific genetic interactions between paralogues of the PXY and ER receptor kinases enforce radial patterning in Arabidopsis vascular tissue. Development 146, dev177105.
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