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EASTBIO Genetic and Cellular Dynamics Underpinning Cereal Crop Leaf Development

School of Biological Sciences

Dr A Richardson , Prof A Hudson Wednesday, January 06, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Leaf shape shows incredible diversity. The shape of the leaf directly affects the productivity of the plant under different environments. Understanding how the leaf grows, and how its shape is defined is therefore a fundamental question in plant biology.
Cereal crops like wheat, rice, maize and barley provide more than 50% of global calories. All cereals are grass species, and have a distinct leaf shape. The base of the leaf encircles the stem, whilst the upper part of the leaf bends away from the plant to intercept light. The angle at which the leaf bends away from the plant is regulated by specialised structures at the boundary between the upper and lower leaves, called the ligule and auricles. To maximise grain yields under different environments and farming practices, leaf shape can be modified (1). However, we do not fully understand how the grass leaf grows.
Final leaf shape is determined by the influence of genes, that expressed in specific spatial or temporal patterns, on cell dynamics like cell division and cell expansion. To target grass leaf development for crop improvement we first need to understand the genetics and the cell dynamics underlying grass leaf development in more detail. Patterns underpinning grass leaf shape, are laid down during the earliest stages of development. In the Plant Shape Lab we combine genetics, 3D imaging, computational modelling, molecular biology, and next generation sequencing technologies to ask how grass leaves and flowers are patterned, how these patterns change over time, and ultimately how these shapes may impact on yield.

This PhD project will contribute to two fundamental questions:
1. What genes underpin grass leaf development?
2. How do these genes affect cell dynamics during development to generate the final leaf shape?

To address these questions you will learn to use diverse techniques, such as confocal microscopy and RNASeq, to investigate how grass leaves develop and how they are patterned. Using maize leaf shape mutants you will study the genes underlying grass leaf patterning and how these genes affect cell dynamics, such as cell division and cell expansion during development. Through investigating the interactions between different genes involved in maize leaf development, you will be able to build a more comprehensive understanding of how the grass leaf grows, and how it is different to leaves of other plant species. This work will allow you to build predictions about how the grass leaf may have evolved and to identify potential new targets for cereal crop modification.
The Plant Shape Lab welcomes applicants from diverse backgrounds to join the team.
Twitter: Dr_AnnisR

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Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership View Website. This opportunity is open to UK and International students and provides funding to cover stipend and UK level tuition fees. The fee difference will be covered by the University of Edinburgh for successful international applicants. Please refer to UKRI website (View Website) and Annex B of the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions (View Website) for full eligibility criteria.

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