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Developing Net Zero Wheat Varieties (Ref: CTP-SAI-053)


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  Dr Stéphanie Swarbreck, Dr Lydia Smith, Dr N Girkin, Mr Ron Stobart  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Wheat (Triticum aestivum) is a major global crop, with >700 mt produced/year (FAO stat 2018), it is used for human consumption (e.g. high protein wheats in breadmaking) and animal feed. Wheat accounts for c.23% of protein in UK diets. Our current high-input wheat production systems are becoming more costly both to farmers (fertiliser prices more than doubling since 2019) and the environment. Synthetic N fertilisers are primarily generated through the Haber-Bosch process, which releases high levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

N fertiliser application to the crop also leads to N losses; via leachate, through the soil leading to diffuse pollution and eutrophication of aquatic ecosystems, or through volatilisation (e.g.NH3) and GHGs (N2O). It is imperative to address this, using an approach combining agronomic, environmental, and genetic expertise. To ensure that the carbon footprint associated with high-quality UK wheat production can be reduced, new cultivars must be assessed at all levels (including environmental impact) under regenerative agriculture (RA) practises. NIAB agronomists and soil scientists have developed agronomic strategies and long-term field trials to test RA practises, including minimising tillage and inputs. Furthermore, NIAB’s pre-breeding department has developed genetic material with introgressions from novel synthetic hexaploid wheat, that can be compared to current varieties.


The overall hypothesis to be tested is whether we can reduce GHGs emissions associated with wheat production by careful selection of new wheat lines and agronomic practises associated with regenerative agriculture. Existing evidence already indicates that even small levels of diversity between wheat genotypes show differences in GHGs production. 

Combined with innovations in fertiliser management, there is thus great potential for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions through manipulation of crop genotypes and fertiliser use. With a combination of fieldwork measurements and modelling, the student will address the following objectives: (1) assessing mechanisms of genotype-specific regulation of GHG production, (2) quantifying the potential of novel fertiliser application methods and (3) modelling the impacts of novel fertiliser applications on soil structure and health, in combination with genotypes at field to farm scale.


This PhD will be based at NIAB (Cambridge) and registered with Cranfield University.


The student will have access to training opportunities through their University to complement their scientific development. This will be augmented by training in key bioscience areas such as statistics through the CTP-SAI. 

There will be additional skills training to enhance employability and research capability. All CTP-SAI students will receive Graduate Training in Leadership and Management from MDS (www.mds-ltd.co.uk). Additionally, students will create their Personal Development Plan (PDP) to identify their development needs and areas of strength. Each student will receive individual coaching and mentoring pertinent to their career plans and skills development in addition to the scientific project supervision. 


Placements are a key feature of CTP and UKRI-BBSRC expects all doctoral candidates on a CTP programme to undertake a placement. Placements can be in the form of research placements (3-18 months duration) or used more flexibly for experiential learning of professional skills for business and/or entrepreneurship. All placements are developed in collaboration between the partners with input from the doctoral candidate.


Contact Stephanie Swarbreck (https://www.niab.com/about/people/dr-stéphanie-swarbreck), for crop genetic components or Lydia Smith for soil health components, and informal discussion on the research content of this PhD.

Beginning in October 2023, the successful candidate should have (or expect to have) an Honours Degree (or equivalent) with a minimum of 2.1 in Plant Science, Applied Statistics, or other related science subjects. Students with an appropriate Masters degree are particularly encouraged to apply.

We welcome UK, EU, and international applicants. Candidates whose first language is not English must provide evidence that their English language is sufficient to meet the specific demands of their study. Candidates should check the requirements for each host organization they are applying to join, but IELTS 6.5 (with no component below 6.0) or equivalent is usually the minimum standard. 

Anyone interested should complete the online application form before the deadline of 6th January 2023. Interviews will take place at the end of January/beginning of February 2023.

Please contact [Email Address Removed] for further application details.

Apply now

Funding Notes

This studentship is for four years and is fully funded in line with UKRI-BBSRC standard rates. These are:
An annual maintenance stipend of £17,668, fee support of £4,596, a research training support grant of £5,000 and conference and UK fieldwork expenses of £300.
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