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Development of wild crop relative genetic resources to fine tune crop flowering time


   Department of Biosciences

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  Dr A.C Brennan, Dr A Prashar  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Flax was domesticated for its seeds and fibre around 9,000 years ago and it has long been vital source of fibre and seed oil. Minor crops like flax are gaining attention to diversify farming in the UK and beyond to make agriculture more sustainable and resilient to global change challenges.

Domestication typically involves population bottlenecks and strong artificial selection that reduce the genetic variation of modern crops. The wild crop relative (WCR) of cultivated flax is naturally distributed throughout the Middle East and Europe and is locally adapted to many environments. Wild-cultivated comparisons are ideal to study useful traits as both the "before" and "after" states are available.

Flowering initiation responses are important to optimise time to match crop development and maturity time with local growing season. We found greater diversity in wild flax flowering responses than the crop, raising the possibility of improving the local climate adaptability of cultivated flax with wild gene variants. However, the genetic control of flowering initiation differences is poorly understood in flax. This project will apply genomics approaches to fill that knowledge gap.

High quality wild flax genomes from different parts of the natural distribution will be generated using long read and linked read sequence data. Genes will be identified using annotation techniques and structural variation between genomes will be measured.

Flowering responses and performance will be measured under northeast UK conditions by applying modern remote sensing and image analysis methods. Samples with contrasting responses will be grown under controlled conditions for microscopic characterisation. Quantitative trait locus mapping will be done to identify genomic regions involved in trait variation. Transcriptomes will be sequenced and bioinformatics analyses will be done to quantify differential gene expression and identify candidate genes and pathways that control flowering initiation in different samples.

The project will be based at Durham University with rotations at Newcastle University. This project will provide a student with a comprehensive practical and theoretical training in the fields of plant breeding, genetics analysis and bioinformatics through the planned tasks of genomics and transcriptomics, and phenotyping techniques.


Funding Notes

This project is in competition with others for funding. Success will depend on the quality of applications received, relative to those for competing projects. If you are interested in applying, in the first instance contact the supervisor, with a CV and covering letter, detailing your reasons for applying for the project.

References

Local climate and vernalization requirements explain the latitudinal patterns of flowering initiation in the crop wild relative Linum bienne. 2022, BioRXiv 474722 DOI: 10.1101/2022.01.02.474722.
Optical Imaging Resources for Crop Phenotyping and Stress Detection. In: Environmental Responses in Plants: Methods and Protocols. New York: Humana, 2022, pp.255-265.
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