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Breeding Micronutrient Efficient Barley for Sustainable Agriculture

Postgraduate Training

Dundee United Kingdom Agricultural Sciences Genetics

About the Project


A current key challenge to agriculture is to maintain sustainable production of crops under climate change and environmental degradation while demand increases due to an increasing population. One way to approach this issue is to identify crop genotypes that utilize nutrients in an efficient way, allowing fewer inputs to be applied yet maintain yields. This project will take a pre-breeding approach to generate resources and knowledge to meet this challenge.


The overall aim is to understand the nutrient and micronutrient content of barley, and use contemporary genetic and genomics approaches to develop pre-breeding germplasm that can be used for improving both the uptake of nutrients from soil and, where appropriate, increase their content in the grain. Our objective is to produce barley genotypes that grow better on reduced input and marginal soils and/or have increased content of key health related micronutrients in the grain. 


As a starting point the student will utilise two already available ionomic datasets (21 different ions including zinc, iron, calcium, and cadmium) we have assembled on two populations of plants comprised of 140 elite NW European cultivars, and 300 Ethiopian landraces. Both datasets were generated in collaboration with the ionomics facility at the University of Nottingham. This germplasm has been genotyped with over 44,000 gene-based SNPs (50K iSelect SNP array) and while analysis of the Ethiopian material is ongoing, GWAS analysis of the elite lines has identified a number of strong associations (and strong candidate genes) for grain micronutrient concentrations (e.g. Zinc, Cadmium, Sodium, Strontium, Copper). Based on this information, the student will first make appropriate crosses to develop genetic materials (e.g. NIL or HIF lines) through rapid generational advance. These will allow them to assess the impact of alternative alleles of identified genes on the uptake of key plant micronutrients and on the performance of the plants grown under limited and replete nutrient growth regimes. We will explore the use of hydroponics to accurately control nutrient availability as a component of our impact assessment. We will consider using transgenic approaches or screen TILLing populations to confirm gene function if required.


Funding Notes

The studentship is funded by the Mylnefield Trust and registered with the University of Dundee for a 4 year study period. Applicants should have a first-class honours degree in a relevant subject or a 2.1 honours degree plus Masters (or equivalent). Funding is available for UK applications only.


Houston, K., Qiu, J., Wege, S. et al. Barley sodium content is regulated by natural variants of the Na+ transporter HvHKT1;5. Commun Biol 3, 258 (2020).

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