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Decisions, decisions: how crops make the best of it

   Division of Plant Sciences

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  Dr Sarah McKim, Dr C Uauy  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This prestigious Sainsbury PhD Studentship will be based in the McKim lab at the University of Dundee at the James Hutton Institute (JHI), a global leader in cereal genetics and genomics, and part of the International Barley Hub, a £62 million investment in cereal research. In this project, you will investigate the grain-producing crops central to our food security. Produced at the end of the cereal life cycle, grain production relies on earlier events during a cereal plant’s growth and development, such as stem elongation, branching and flower production. As climate change worsens, cereals experience more severe and frequent extremes in the field. We know little about how plants adjust developmental events during or after episodes of stress - a significant lack of understanding we must overcome to improve resiliency in cereal crops.

In a major advance addressing this aim, the McKim lab identified a set of master regulatory factors which appear to regulate developmental responses during environmental stress in barley, a major cultivated cereal. In this project, you will use existing resources and generate new materials to extend this work to understand barley development under stressful conditions. You will define at high resolution how periods of stress influence key developmental events and then investigate how key master regulatory genes direct these changes. You will also explore how variation in these factors may contribute to cereal success during domestication and subsequent cultivation as well as their potential for current cereal improvement. Students excited to explore plant science from molecule to field would be best suited for this project.

In doing this research, you will learn the latest molecular genetic approaches, including gene editing, precision transcriptomics, and diversity analyses. You will be part of the McKim lab, a dynamic, productive and supportive research group studying cereal development. You will join a cohort of next-generation cereal scientists receiving training offered by University of Dundee and JHI. You will also receive additional support from Prof. Cristobal Uauy, a world-leader in cereal genetics and genomics and crop improvement at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, including a research placement. Students in the McKim lab are encouraged to present their work at international conferences and as part of scientific publications, as well as engage with the public to communicate our science. We warmly welcome students from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

To apply please contact Dr. Sarah McKim ([Email Address Removed]) directly. In your email, please provide your CV with a cover letter and/or applicant statement, describing your experience, your interest in the project and your expectations of a PhD studentship. Questions about the Sainsbury PhD Studentship programme should be directed to Roxaana Clayton ([Email Address Removed]). 

Further details about the Sainsbury PhD Studentship can be found here: Prestigious Sainsbury PhD Studentships in plant sciences for 2024-25

Agriculture (1) Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

Enhanced four-year postgraduate studentships, starting in October 2024, will again be awarded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. The maintenance stipend in the first year will be £23,303 (to increase by 4% annually). In addition to this, there is an annual payment of £5,500 for department laboratory fees, and £700 for books, conferences and travel. Tuition fees are also paid by the Foundation.


Gray SB, Brady SM. Plant developmental responses to climate change. Dev Biol. 2016 Nov 1;419(1):64-77. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2016.07.023.