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Decoding gene expression in polyploid wheat (BORRILL_J22DTP)

   Graduate Programme

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  Dr Philipa Borrill  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Many globally important crops are polyploids, for example cotton, sugar cane, potato and wheat. However, the regulation of polyploid genomes is complicated because there are multiple copies of most genes. We have limited knowledge about the molecular mechanisms regulating these gene copies. In this project we will take advantage of the recent revolution in wheat genomics to study how multiple gene copies are regulated polyploid genomes using wheat as a model system. 

The most widely grown wheat is hexaploid bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) which has on average three highly similar copies of every gene (homoeologs). The A, B and D homoeologs of each gene are typically >95% identical within coding sequences and can be functionally redundant, i.e. if one homoeolog is mutated no phenotypic effect will be observed due to compensation by the other homoeologs. However, we do not know how common functional redundancy is between homoeologs or understand the molecular mechanisms controlling redundancy. This lack of knowledge limits our ability to control phenotype and hence improve polyploid crops. 

As a first step towards understanding homoeolog redundancy we studied homoeolog expression levels. We found that 30 % of wheat genes show different expression levels between the A, B and D homoeologs suggesting that the homoeologs may be non-redundant. We hypothesise that the ability to manipulate the relative expression levels of homoeologs may provide a route to reduce functional redundancy and more easily alter phenotypes in wheat. Therefore, in this project we will investigate the mechanisms that control homoeolog expression levels including epigenetic and nonsense-mediate decay pathways, and their effects on phenotype. 

The student will develop a wide range of skills including molecular biology, gene editing and genomics. They will benefit from tailored training opportunities through the DTP training programme and from the outstanding scientific environment across the NRP.

The Norwich Research Park Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP) is open to UK and international candidates for entry October 2021 and offers postgraduates the opportunity to undertake a 4-year PhD research project whilst enhancing professional development and research skills through a comprehensive training programme. You will join a vibrant community of world-leading researchers. All NRPDTP students undertake a three-month professional internship placement (PIPS) during their study. The placement offers exciting and invaluable work experience designed to enhance professional development. Full support and advice will be provided by our Professional Internship team. Students with, or expecting to attain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the NRPDTP programme. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on Tuesday 25th January, Wednesday 26th January and Thursday 27th January 2022.

Visit our website for further information on eligibility and how to apply:

Our partners value diverse and inclusive work environments that are positive and supportive. Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Funding Notes

This project is awarded with a 4-year Norwich Research Park Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP) PhD studentship. The studentship includes payment of tuition fees (directly to the University), a stipend for each year of the studentship (2021/2 stipend rate: £15,609), and a Research Training Support Grant for each year of the studentship of £5,000 p.a.


Borrill P. 2020. Blurring the boundaries between cereal crops and model plants. New Phytologist, 228: 1721.
Ramírez-González RH, Borrill P. et al, 2018. The transcriptional landscape of polyploid wheat. Science 361: eaar6089.
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