Ambient temperature profoundly influences plant development from the onset of seed germination to flower and fruit production and thereby impacts crop quality and yield. Rising temperatures brought about by climate change have been recognised as a major threat to agriculture and food security: in wheat and barley, each 1°C increase above optimal growth temperature is estimated to reduce yield by 5-6%. A detailed understanding of the mechanisms by which plants respond to high ambient temperature is thus vital to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change on crop production.
Over the past decade, a molecular framework underlying temperature perception and response has been established in the model plant Arabidopsis. Transcription factors of the PHYTOCHROME INTERACTING FACTOR (PIF) family act at the heart of these signalling cascades; they are themselves regulated by temperature at the level of transcription, translation, protein stability and activity, and in turn control gene expression in a temperature-dependent manner to adjust the plant’s growth and development to its surroundings.
While substantial advances have been made in Arabidopsis, our understanding of temperature signalling processes in cereals remains limited. This 4-year PhD studentship aims to remedy this situation: you will generate a comprehensive overview of the effects high ambient temperature has on seedling establishment and vegetative growth in the staple crop barley. You will also investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying high temperature-controlled development (thermomorphogenesis), focusing on PIF homologues found in the barley genome. Taking advantage of existing large-scale transcriptomic datasets, you will explore how temperature affects transcription and alternative splicing of these genes and their respective transcripts. Employing transgenic approaches as well as newest gene editing techniques, you will generate pif knock-out and PIF overexpression lines and investigate their effect on plant development and temperature-controlled gene expression. Finally, using protein-protein and protein-DNA interaction assays you will gain a first insight into the mechanisms by which barley PIFs control gene expression. This research will help unravel the molecular machinery that governs high temperature responses in barley and has the potential to identify novel breeding targets for the generation of climate-resilient barley varieties.
This work will provide you with a broad set of skills in genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry and quantitative developmental biology. You will have the opportunity to present your work at internal seminars and international conferences and to participate in a variety of scientific and transferrable skills training offered by both the James Hutton Institute and the University of Dundee.
You will be supervised by Dr Martin Balcerowicz, a Royal Society University Research Fellow with extensive expertise in plant temperature signalling, and Dr Craig Simpson, a leading expert in the control of alternative splicing in plants. Our labs are based at the James Hutton Institute, a diverse and collaborative research environment that hosts the University of Dundee’s Plant Science Department and the International Barley Hub (IBH), an international community that harbours immense resources and expertise in barley research.