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EASTBIO Understanding strawberry cell walls as a guide to breeding future-proof fruit genotypes (CASE project with Edward Vinson Ltd)

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  • Full or part time
    Prof S C Fry
    Prof D Uhrin
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Rationale. This project targets one of the BBSRC’s strategic priority areas: Bioscience for Sustainable Agriculture and Food; sub-theme Crops and soil.
It comprises novel research that is both of fundamental interest and has industrial applicability. The softening of ripening fruit involves dramatic changes in cell-wall structure. In many species, softening is important because it makes fruit attractive to consumers. On the other hand, excessive softening is detrimental, causing wastage on the supermarket shelf and making crops more vulnerable to pathogens. Controlling the softening process, e.g. in strawberries, would cause less waste when UK crops peak; imported crops (e.g. from Southern Europe and Morocco in winter) could go further; and opportunities would be raised for summer UK exports. Slow-softening fruits would bring less disease and longer picking intervals.

Preliminary data from the applicants’ laboratories. The Fry lab (Edinburgh) is elucidating novel mechanisms by which fruits soften. This work draws on many years’ experience of cell-wall biochemistry. Collaborators at Edward Vinson Ltd. (Kent), commercial fruit breeders, have a molecular breeding pipeline —in strawberry among other fruits. We aim to link genetic markers (Edward Vinson) to physiological/biochemical processes (Fry lab) and metabolomics/ structural analysis (Uhrín lab), benefiting future breeding efforts. Edward Vinson Ltd. is developing a molecular map for strawberry, so it will be possible to look for relevant genetic markers and use these in marker-assisted selection.

Proposed new research
Available genotypes differ in firmness: for example, recently developed commercial genotypes versus ‘heritage’ varieties. We will explore the relationship between their genetics and their cell-wall processes. At Edinburgh, the student will invent convenient new tools for screening cell-wall ‘softening markers’, including:
• vitamin C secretion and turnover;
• hydroxyl radicals that non-enzymically attack cell walls in vivo;
• solubilisation and partial degradation of pectins;
• specific pectin-targeting enzyme activities and/or action in living fruit—
o pectin methylesterase
o rhamnogalacturonan lyase
o pectate lyase
o endopolygalacturonase.

Student’s role: initially working under close guidance. The student will explore the physiological/biochemical processes occurring in softening strawberry cell walls. He/she will devise novel, simplified assays for these processes suitable for routine use by plant breeders. This study will employ the most appropriate types of chromatography and electrophoresis, with detailed practical guidance at Edinburgh. Training/experience will also be provided in preparing seminars, posters, reports and manuscripts; and undergraduate demonstrating.

Student’s role: subsequent opportunities for independent exploration. Later, depending on initial findings and personal motivation, the student devise the best ways forward to fully characterise the relevant biological processes. This may include in-vivo radiolabelling in Fry’s lab, and NMR spectroscopy plus mass spectrometry in the School of Chemistry of the University of Edinburgh.

Industrial liaison. In the fruit breeding lab (Edward Vinson Ltd.), the student will apply the novel assays he/she has developed, working closely with molecular breeders and using their laboratory on-site. The student will also look at the novel softening markers in breeding material in the field, potentially linking field measurements of firmness with shelf-life. The period(s) of industrial liaison will provide insight into the opportunities and practicalities of commercial applied biology.

Funding Notes

The “Visit Website” button will take you to our Online Application checklist. Complete each step and download the checklist which will provide a list of funding options and guide you through the application process. Follow the instructions on the EASTBIO website (you will be directed here from our application checklist), ensuring you upload an EASTBIO application form and transcripts to your application, and ticking the box to request references. Your referees should upload their references using the EASTBIO reference form, in time for the 5th January deadline so please give them plenty of time to do this by applying early.


• S.C. Fry (2017) Ripening. In Encyclopedia of Applied Plant Sciences, 2nd edition, Volume 1, pp. 323–334. Editors: B. Thomas, B.G. Murray, D.J. Murphy. Academic Press, Waltham, MA, USA. [PDF available from Prof. Fry]
• O.B. Airianah, R.A.M. Vreeburg, S.C. Fry (2016) Pectic polysaccharides are attacked by hydroxyl radicals in ripening fruit: evidence from a fluorescent fingerprinting method. Annals of Botany, 117, 441–455,
• R.A. Dewhirst, G.J.J. Clarkson, S.D. Rothwell, S.C. Fry (2017). Novel insights into ascorbate retention and degradation during the washing and post-harvest storage of spinach and other salad leaves. Food Chemistry, 233, 237–246,

How good is research at University of Edinburgh in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 109.70

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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